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Mission to Mars (***)
Directed by Brian DePalma
Written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Graham Yost, and Lowell Cannon
Mission to Mars
Principal Cast
Gary Sinise -- Jim McConnell
Don Cheadle -- Luc Goddard
Connie Nielsen --
Jerry O'Connell -- Phil Ohlmyer
Kim Delaney -- Maggie McConnell
Tim Robbins -- Woody Blake
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Mission to Mars is an entertaining science fiction film that strives to be scientifically accurate. I saw it on the day it opened, and was the only person in the theatre. This contrasts with the crowds who went to see the scientifically ludicrous Pitch Black. The view of the public (and most of the critics) is clear:  NASA: boring. Monsters: fun.

The DePalma film is fundamentally an adventure film. The audience may not even notice that it takes radio messages many minutes to reach Earth (at the speed of light), that gravity in space is supplied by centrifugal force, and that the alien clock is counting down in binary. DePalma does not rub our noses in the science. He just gets it right. I like that. The zero-g action sequences are convincing and suspenseful. The "Cold Equations" are honoured.

Apparently, more tickets would have been sold if the NASA mission to Mars had included a kid, a religious fanatic, a convicted murderer, and a bounty hunter.

The downside is that there is nothing particularly original here. There are the usual DePalma "quotes" from other films, notably Destination Moon and 2001. The astronauts in the movie mention their love of science fiction. But no science fiction writers were consulted to add ideas to the mix. Jim and John Thomas's previous work in science fiction consists of the two Predator films. I assume that Graham Yost wrote the excellent action sequences, since he wrote Broken Arrow (***). (That's the John Travolta film, not the wonderful Jimmy Stewart film with the same name.)

But careful attention to scientific detail, with an accurate representation of how outer space and other planets are different from, say, southern California, is rare in films. The honour roll of SF films that even bothered to try to get the science right is short. The only ones I can think of are Destination Moon, 2001, 2010, Contact, the Star Trek films, and now Mission to Mars. That's a mighty short list.

Mission to Mars is the best movie so far this year. But that isn't saying much.

P.S. Save your money (and your time) and skip What Planet Are You From. I went to see it because Mike Nichols has directed some great movies. This isn't one of them. It is "science fiction" in the same sense that I Dream of Genie and My Favourite Martian are science fiction. None of the people who made it have any idea what science fiction is. The only reason they made a movie they might call "science fiction" is so, when someone points out that it doesn't make any sense, they can say, "It doesn't have to make sense. It's science fiction."

Copyright © 2000 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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