Written for Luther College Chips on March 16, 2000
March typically isn’t the best month for heading to the local theatre. The big, flashy movies won’t start until early May and the Oscar contenders were already released last fall. This leaves a sizable hole in the release schedule and means that movies like “Mission to Mars” get dumped onto the public.
The story concerns the first manned Mars mission getting attacked by a mysterious “force” and follows the attempts of a second crew to find out what happened. That crew is led by multiple Oscar nominees Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins. Incredibly, the great past performances by these actors mean nothing as many of the dramatic scenes with them are laughable due to horrible patches of dialogue. Don Cheadle (Buck from “Boogie Nights”) has two or three nice moments, but is mostly wasted. And after his first scene, most viewers will wish that “Scream 2” alum Jerry O’Connell would get blown out of an airlock; unfortunately that never happens.
Director Brian De Palma is an unusual choice for this film, given that this is his first science fiction movie. He doesn’t make a smooth transition from his past bloody, R-rated Al Pacino movies like “Scarface” and “Carlito’s Way” to this PG-rated space thriller. He did display his trademark of keeping the camera constantly on the move, but that doesn’t work very well in a space setting and often left me dizzy. On the musical end of things, scoring great Ennio Morricone gives this movie a much better soundtrack than it deserves.
My biggest problem with “Mission to Mars” is that it doesn’t break any new ground. Many of the big special effects look like they were leftovers from last summer’s “The Mummy.” The models and many of the sets look like cheap remakes of the ones from “2001” (which doesn’t say much since that movie is 30 years old). Worst of all, the ending is straight out of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” If Gary Sinise grew his hair out like Richard Dreyfuss’, they could have saved some money and spliced in some footage from “Close Encounters.” It wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
If you’ve seen a couple of science fiction movies, you can probably guess where the plot of “Mission to Mars” is headed. To make matters worse, if you’ve seen the preview for the film, you’ve seen most of the ending and all of the good special effects shots. Save your money on this one and use it to rent the recent re-release of “Close Encounters” on video instead.