trailers that are shown before the feature
presentation tell us a lot about who the
studio thinks is sitting out there in
the audience. Before RED PLANET, we were
shown trailers for: PROOF OF LIFE, the
diplomatic kidnapping-and-rescue vehicle
starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe; DRIVEN,
a car racing flick with Sly Stallone;
and VALENTINE, a holiday horror picture.
So Warner Brothers thinks that the folks
who want to see RED PLANET like movies
involving situations where love flourishes
amidst danger; where men are men (and
sometimes women are "men") and they do
manly stuff that causes explosions/fires/crashes;
and where love is hell?
PLANET is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers
action movie that happens to be set in
space. It's a bit of a bait-and-switch.
The tag line—"Not a sound. Not a warning.
Not a chance. Not alone."—suggests that
our intrepid spacepersons meet with a
threatening, ALIEN-like Martian species.
It ain't like that.
space travelers left a hopelessly polluted
Earth to check on the project to render
Mars habitable for humans. Their mission
is to find out what's become of the oxygen-producing
algae that has been seeded on the planet.
PLANET starts out with voiceover by Carrie-Anne
Moss (playing Capt. Bowman, in a nod to
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY), explaining how
we fouled our nest and introducing the
other crewmembers, scientists Chantillas
(Stamp) and Burchenal (Sizemore), #2 Santen
(Bratt), and the expendable yeoman (Baker).
We're then thrown right into the meat
of the movie. The writers insert a gratuitous
shower scene, wasting no time getting
Moss nekkid and wet.
we have the usual Things That Don't Go
As Planned. A flare damages the ship,
causing Capt. Bowman to have to stay behind
and launch the lander manually. (When
the lander crashes onto Mars, it's surrounded
by cushioning balloons that bounce down
hills and fields just like in "The Prisoner".)
Chantillas, the philosopher-scientist,
is mortally injured and must stay behind.
First man down, four to go. Next, the
men find that their habitat station has
been destroyed, leaving them without food,
water, or oxygen. Then, there's a murder.
Two down, three to go. Then their navigator-robot,
AMEE, having been kicked into "military
mode" by the crash landing, shows up.
AMEE unfolds like an insectoid Transformer™,
strikes bring-it-on kung fu poses, and
proceeds to kick everybody's ass—two-and-a-half
down, 2.5 to go. Then, there's stupidity,
taking out one more crewmember. And so
it goes, until only one ingenious human
is left on the planet's surface. But not
would be unsporting to say who's left
and who makes it out alive, but you can
guess by the billing, can't you? All involved
give competent, controlled performances.
Kilmer usually gets on my nerves, but
here he's fairly restrained, even when
he's the comic relief. Sizemore is a hoot
as the plain-speaking geneticist, and
Moss is all wiry, gung-ho (actually she's
Navy, not a Marine) charm. Stamp isn't
given much to do but it's always a pleasure
to watch him do it. All of this is set
against the requisite explosions and fires
and glaring product placement (this mission
brought to you by Nokia and Toshiba, which
will still be around in 2050, apparently).
was pleased by the revelations of Mars.
Too often humans forge ahead only to meet
menace and evil, an attitude that has
always struck me as unreasonably fearful.
But RED PLANET has a post-Cold War sensibility,
and thank goodness for it.
PLANET runs out of steam in the third
act, returning to voiceover and telling
us instead of showing us. For my money,
the story's ending was reasonable and
satisfying. It was its presentation that
I found wanting. Still, this workmanlike
space opera is probably worth catching
on a matinee, if you've got some time