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Red Planet (**)
Directed by Antony Hoffman
Written by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin
Red Planet
Principal Cast
Val Kilmer -- Robby Gallagher
Tom Sizemore -- Dr. Quinn Burchenal
Carrie-Anne Moss -- Commander Kate Bowman
Benjamin Bratt -- Ted Santen
Simon Baker -- Chip Pettengill
Terence Stamp -- Dr. Bud Chantillas
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

The best I can say about Red Planet is this. If you are really desperate for a sci-fi fix in a year without any first rate SF films, you won't be completely bored.

The good news is that the hand-held computers in the movie are the first computers in the visual media that actually look like they might be more than ten years in the future. The spaceship is impressive, too. I'd buy the Revell model kit, if Revell still made plastic models of spaceships.

The bad news is that those are the best things in the movie.

The two writers have previously worked (separately) on such forgettable films as Barb Wire and Lethal Weapon 4.

Roger Ebert unaccountably compares this film to the SF in John W. Campbell's Astounding. Glad as I am to see Big John get some name recognition, Ebert only reveals that he knows more about science fiction than he does about science. I'll mention just a couple of the many problem with the science in this film. First, none of the high tech equipment in Red Planet can measure the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. Wouldn't an oxygen sensor be the first thing you would build into a spacesuit? Second, there's this robot. Don't you think NASA would have put a fail safe over the robot's kill switch?

Kinda cool robot, though. In a year this slow, you savor small pleasures.

The first sign that this is not going to be a very good film is when it opens with a voice over that introduces all of the characters and sums up their character in a few words. Even the humblest pulp writer knew you introduce character through action, not narration. Then the characters begin to wax philosophical about God and science and man and nature. That's always a bad sign. Then the writer begins to kill off the characters one by one, and you say, "Oh, one of those plots."

Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke showed everyone how to write near future sf. It's very simple. You start with a story. Heinlein said he only knew three stories: boy meets girl, the little tailor, and the man who learns better. Those are stories. A spaceship goes to Mars and the crew get killed one by one is not a story.

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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