Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Seeing Red: "Red Planet" (2000)

In 2057, our planet is dying, choking on man made pollution (and you thought recycling your beer cans would help).

A misfit ragtag crew is sent to Mars. We have been sending unmanned probes there in the past. These probes have been depositing algae on the planet, which expels oxygen and will allow man to breathe.

The crew consists of five actors and Carrie-Anne Moss. Moss opens the film with some narration introducing the crew and talking of their differences. Except for Terence Stamp, who is old and thereby gets the thankless role of sexless voice of reason, all the other guys are chauvinist jerks. Val Kilmer, Benjamin Bratt, Tom Sizemore, and Simon Baker all have long complicated titles, but really do not do anything in the film to differentiate themselves from each other. They do lust after Moss and can throw out a lame one liner with the best of them.

Things go wrong as soon as their ship gets to the red planet. A space storm renders the ship useless. The guys are sent down to the surface and find no algae. The crew begins to die one by one. Stamp is dispatched before he can convert everyone else's faith from science to something cosmically bigger in the universe. Baker makes an oopsy and pushes Bratt off a cliff. A malfunctioning robot is also along for the ride, deciding to take out the crew for wanting to use it for spare parts. The planet station they were to use when they got down to the surface is destroyed by unseen forces, possibly another life form. Finally, how come everyone can breathe when all the algae is missing?

You might be thinking: cool; a killer robot, a flipped out murdering scientist, alien life forms, and a cosmic being that may or may not be watching over the crew. Throw in Moss back on the ship trying to hold everything together and this is going to be one suspense filled, action packed ride...negative.

As the film progresses, and more of the crew is dispatched, I came to the conclusion that three or four plotlines were fighting for my attention. None were succeeding in holding it. You could make a film that stands alone on any of the robot/psycho/alien villains, yet when thrown together they did not yield exciting chaos but inattention to each individual plot thread.

The cast is very capable, pulling off lots of scientific jargon and rewiring of impossibly damaged equipment without a hitch, but so much more is left up in the air, and some characters acknowledge that! How do the life forms make oxygen? Don't know. How is an indestructible robot so easily dispatched? Don't know. How is Kilmer able to survive huge explosions that seem on the same scale as Nevada desert nuclear plumes of the 1950's? Don't know. Why is Terence Stamp in this picture? Don't know. Stamp's little quiet philosophical conversations amount to absolutely nothing, as God does not swoop in at any point here to save the boys (at least in an obvious way). Throw in the dull romance between Moss and Kilmer, and you have some definite script problems.

While the special effects are lovely and a wonder to look at, they are set to a Graeme Revell musical score that is equally schizophrenic. At some points, I heard the old theme to "Star Trek," at other points, a tabernacle choir takes us through the action. The film makers could not make up their minds, and neither could Revell.

In the end, "Red Planet," like its competitor "Mission to Mars," is pretty to look at and shows technical triumph. The film makers seemed to get the future right, but they forgot to serve the base human emotions of excitement at the proceedings and caring for the characters.

I do not recommend this angry "Red Planet." (* *) out of five stars.