Re:tro Re:view – Mission to Mars!

Jondee here on Cydonia, Mars,

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Last year, there was The Martian, but on seeing recently Mission to Mars, that film is like an expanded segment of this film with a lost astronaut surviving on Mars and a recovery mission. The film was directed by Brian De Palma, an acclaimed director known for Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983), and Mission: Impossible (1996). It has ethereal music by Ennio Morricone and made for Touchstone Pictures, a division of Disney Studios that had more adult themed content. It is not clear if this was based on the Disneyland ride which closed in 1992 eight years before the film opened. The film opens with a pre-launch party held by the family and friends of the astronauts for the Mars I mission. This includes Luke (Don Cheadle, you know, War Machine). Luke has to console his boy, Bobby (Robert Bailey Jr.) who worries about his father being away for so long. Luke’s fellow astronauts, Woody (Tim Robbins) and his wife, Terri (Connie Nielsen with short, brunette hair) are also there for him. Late for the party, is former astronaut, Jim McConnell, played by Gary Sinese who also was in Apollo 13 (1995). He was grounded after the death of his wife. Jim makes a footprint in the garden and then this shifts to Mars with a tiny rover moving across its rocky surface. Luke is called in because ice may be detected in a formation, key to setting up a colony. At the World Space Station (not International), the message is sent by Lance to the Mission Control Room, with Jim monitoring the transmission. A strange, broken signal is transmitted from the structure. The message also includes a birthday greeting for Jim. The Mars team scans the structure with radar and then the devices short out with winds whipping around the structure. It becomes a massive cyclone that devours the astronauts like a sandworm. One astronaut is twirled inside the cyclone and torn to pieces! The storm reveals a stone face (called the Sleeping Goddess by the filmmakers in the commentary).  The incredible effects are led by ILM, Dream Quest, and Hoyt Yeatman and John Knoll, visual effects supervisors.

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Woody and Terri argue about dancing when Phil (Jerry O’Connell) gives them the alarm. A “catastrophic” event has happened to the mission. The Remo (Resupply Module) satellite has detected someone has survived, Luke has a garbled recording. Commander Woody argues with Ramier (Armin Mueller-Stahl) for a rescue mission to re-outfit new computer boards for the capsule. Woody also recommends that Jim should be on the mission. There’s an impressive shot of Terri and then Phil walking in the gravity wheel of Mars II while the others are different sections spinning around. Woody and Terri dance in zero gravity. The ship approaches Mars and there’s a Hidden Mickey (revealed in the commentary)! Jim looks over a party video showing his wife Maggie (Kim Delaney). Micro-meterorites pummel the ship, a leak is shown when Phil’s pierced hand is filled with his floating blood. Woody goes EVA to check out the ship for pressure leaks, Phil restarts the computers, and Jim has Terri squeeze out a Dr. Pepper packet to find the leak while he is losing oxygen! Morricone goes Phantom of the Opera-like organ to show the tension. They are saved, but have to scramble for the landing, letting fuel leak from the line and float to the engine blowing it up! They go EVA to reach the Remo, tethered together, Woody hits it with the tether, but has his momentum throw him past! He doesn’t want Terri to sacrifice herself to save him so Woody saves her. This is thirteen years before Gravity. They reach Mars and find that Luke has gone crazy from isolation and the loss of his crew. He has an idea about the transmission from the Face. Jim figures out that it is a missing part of the DNA code to prove they are human. They have to enter the Face and discover the mystery of Mars. Gary Sinese is always brilliant, even more so because he is the mission commander in the Mission: Space attraction at EPCOT which takes riders to Mars. A hopeful, powerful film for De Palma and brilliant story on the risks of space exploration and extraterrestrial intelligence. Highly recommended, Five Remos out of Five!

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