Genre(s): Science Fiction, Action, Thriller
Warner Bros. | PG13 – 106 min. – $19.98 | July 26, 2011
Directed by: Antony Hoffman
Writer(s): Chuck Pfarrer (story), Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lempkin (screenplay)
Cast: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Simon Baker, Terrence Stamp
Theatrical Release Date: November 10, 2000
Features: Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): Region Free
THE MOVIE – 2.25/5
Science Fiction movies where space travel is the primary subject, with a genre thrown to propel the story, don’t often turn out all too well with the exception – off the top of my head – of the first two Alien movies. Even something like Sunshine, a brilliant film for the first two-thirds, faltered in the third act turning from strange fantasy to almost straight-up horror seemingly inspired by Event Horizon.
In 2000, there was not just one but two space travel films to come out and both involved the planet Mars. While the Disney version, Mission to Mars, which cost a reported $100 million, went on to make around $110 million worldwide, Red Planet apparently cost $80 million and made a mere $35 million worldwide amidst poor reviews and audience indifference. After my first viewing, I can see why. It’s not that the movie was bad per se, but it was generally downright dull through and through.
The story takes place in the year 2055 and Earth is dying with one last hope of colonization is the planet Mars. Year’s earlier scientists, via rockets, populated the planet with algae in the hopes it would create a breathable atmosphere for mankind. The crew of this mission is led by Commander Trinity (CARRIE-ANNE MOSS) and her team consists of cocky pilot Law & Order (BENJAMIN BRATT), technician The Mentalist (SIMON BAKER), civilian Heat (TOM SIZEMORE) and glorified janitor Iceman (VAL KILMER).
During their three month journey, the crew discusses various topics including religion and philosophy vs. science, in a minimalist way, and a couple of them get on the nerves of others (mainly L&O and Mentalist, one is a jock, the other a nerd). After some minor sexual tension between Trinity and Iceman, the mission gets going as the ship reaches Mars’ orbit. Well, if this weren’t a clichéd-riddled film, everything would go smoothly and they would all go home happy. Of course, that does not happen and the proverbial sh** hits the fan where all systems go haywire and the Trinity must make a quick decision to send the rest of the crew down to Mars in the hopes of salvaging the mission while she tries to restore systems. With some reluctance, Iceman and the rest get into the space modular which launches down to the surface but, lo and behold, the craft has its own troubles and lands miles outside of the designated zone. But that’s not all of the trouble as, on this modular, was a military navigation robot called AMEE had to be separated from the crew. It’s a robot with precisely two settings: happy, dog-like robot and killer robot; take a stab at which one causes a whole lot of havoc upon them all.
And yet the crew has more problems. First, The Mentalist and Law & Order have at it on the planet which causes one of them to die an unfortunate and lame death; the second issue is they have an issue concerning rapidly depleting oxygen levels which become a bigger problem when the base that was built on Mars, and where they can find oxygen and rations, has been completely demolished. Ok, I think that’s all the disasters that have plagued this poor ragtag crew…
That’s the basic premise behind Red Planet and quite frankly for all that does go wrong, it all doesn’t seem to matter between 1-dimensional characters, a plotline that isn’t all that interesting which in turn brings about a dull motion picture.
Where the movie does succeed is with the practical effects, visual effects (save for the space fire) and, for the most part, miniature construction. For a film made in 2000 on a modest budget, especially considering Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss were still making decent money. But for all the good the effects do, it can’t save a floundering and mostly predictable story.
In regards to the casting, as I mentioned, Val Kilmer was still a viable name and receives top billing and Carrie-Anne Moss was coming off of the surprise hit, The Matrix just a year earlier. Add them to a who’s who of recognizable faces from Benjamin Bratt, trying to poise himself to movie fame out of the shadow of “Law & Order” (in fact he left the series in ‘99) to do this and several other flops; the venerable Terrence Stamp filling the necessary wise-old-man void; Tom Sizemore before his addiction became a hindrance in his career; and Simon Baker in one of his earlier roles before going onto The Ring Two, The Devil Wears Prada and, of course, the hit CBS television series, “The Mentalist”. His performance seems to be underplayed, living with what his character does but never really reaching any kind of emotional crescendo.
Red Planet was directed by Antony Hoffman in his first and only feature film before returning to his roots of commercials. All things considered, and with so much wrong with the movie, I thought the visuals were one of the better aspects but it wasn’t helped at all by the script. Speaking of which, the screenplay was written by Chuck Pfarrer (this was his last credited script) and Jonathan Lemkin (who’s only other credit after was Shooter).
In the end, Red Planet isn’t a bad movie, just mediocre to the point of being dull and downright boring with bland characters only propped up by some good visual effects and miniature work. The cast I suppose did their best with what they were given but even still this isn’t exactly a highlight in their resume.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 1.25/5
The disc includes some Deleted Scenes (14:22; SD) and the Theatrical Trailer (1:39; SD).
VIDEO – 4.25/5
Red Planet boasts a solid video transfer with its original 2.40 aspect ratio and 1080p high-definition. These types of catalogue releases, meaning smaller interest/fan-base, can be a mixed bag where the studio does a quick one-over with the transfer and releases it as is with little fanfare. While the latter is true, the former is not because save for a few shots, most notably some of the visual effects ones, this is a good looking Blu-ray release that fans of the film will enjoy. Since I don’t have the original DVD release, I can’t do a comparison but I would suspect that this is a fair amount better than its SD counterpart. Colors, when not on Mars, are well balanced and black levels, which there are plenty of, are free of any ghastly pixilation or other flaws. When on Mars, there is a noticeable amount of film grain but that only adds to the detail level. Why I didn’t give this a higher rating is in certain shots it does look a tad oversaturated but those are few and far between.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track packs quite the punch which there are plenty to gauge and from the beginning the bass, beginning at a low level, quickly cranks up to shake the entire room. With the rest of the film, you get clear dialogue levels along with some depth coming from the rear channels during the action sequences. It’s not exactly reference quality, but for a catalogue title, I still found it to be impressive.
OVERALL – 3.0/5
Overall, despite some decent visual and practical effects, Red Planet is just an ordinary movie in that hellish spot between the good and bad making it a forgettable film as a whole. The Blu-ray itself though boasts fine audio and video transfers though is limited in features which were carried over from the DVD releases. Given the low MSRP of $19.98, this is yet another shelf filler that will, in a few months, be below $10 at which point if you’ve enjoyed the film might be worthwhile picking up.