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the realm of science fiction has always been an allegory of political and or moral sensibilities .
the best tales of the genre deal with mankind's struggle for survival or knowledge .
such popular and noteworthy tomes as " stranger in a strange land " by robert heinlein , " childhood's end " by arthur c . clarke and " man in the high castle " and " do androids dream of electric sheep " by philip k . dick all deal with man's need for identity and struggle for self worth .
hollywood has regularly adapted the milieu ( if not the message ) of science fiction since it's beginnings .
most films just created fancy pulp tales with no more thought that the escapism they achieved .
it really wasn't until producer george pal , took charge of robert heinlein's novel " rocketship galileo " and crafted the film " destination moon " , that 'sci-fi' ( as it is commonly referred to ) , came into it's own .
from there , such diverse filmmakers as roger corman to stanley kubrick , have sought to express ideas through the medium of the genre .
with the release of touchstone pictures " mission to mars " , we have an unabashedly nonchalant sci-fi film for those who read the national enquirer and the globe .
the film opens on a summer barbecue , as phil ohlmyer ( jerry o'connell ) woos a young female with his tales of space glory and the upcoming mission .
woody blake ( tim robbins ) and his wife terri ( connie nielsen ) commit to his coming authority on the mission , and luc goddard ( don cheadle ) consoles his son .
entering the party is jim mcconnell ( gary sinise ) , who gave up command of the mission due to the untimely death of his wife , maggie ( kim delaney ) .
luc consoles jim with woody's assistance .
the three men are friends and carry a fine bond of trust and caring between them .
but jim still longs to set foot on the red planet .
the mission is in earnest as luc and his team land in the cydonia region of mars .
they send out the rover to investigate the area and discover what seems to be water or ice under the surface .
going out to investigate , luc and his team approach the famed 'face on mars' .
a strange noise emanates from the rock .
as the team tries to scan through the rock with radar , a violent wind storm erupts , creating a vortex that kills all members of the team , save for luc .
back on the space station orbiting earth , woody and jim receive the information that the mars landing team is missing .
luc's interference laden emergency message urges the two men to attempt a second mission to the red planet in the hopes of rescuing the previous team .
the second journey to the martian world is fraught with danger .
meteorite showers , explosions , and rescues all come into play as the intrepid heroes make there way to the planet's surface .
the big question is , is there now or has there ever been intelligent life on mars .
and if so , what is its relationship with us ?
now for the bad news .
the entire plot of " mission to mars " is based almost wholeheartedly on outdated and preposterous national enquirer type martian civilization tripe .
the famed 'face on mars' becomes the centerpiece of the film , revealing some of the most harebrained sci-fi pabulum the screen has witnessed .
borrowing ideas from such films as " robinson crusoe on mars " ( 1964 ) , quatermass and the pit ( 1967 ) , " 2001 : a space odyssey " , and even mario bava's " planet of the vampires " ( 'terrore nello spazio' ) ( 1965 ) , " mission to mars " is a hodgepodge of ideas that don't add up to a satisfying whole .
while some sequences are wonderfully handled and executed , the film remains flat and un-involving .
so much time is giving to establishing the lead characters in the film , but to no good use .
the performances are all workmen like , with only don cheadle ( as luc ) carrying any sort of real chemistry .
gary sinise is wasted in role that requires him to look as if he is experiencing sleep depravation .
and the mistaken idea of having jerry o'connell ( as phil ohlmyer ) play his part for comic relief is just too painful to excuse .
and the less said about tim robbins called in from home performance the better .
he's just having too much fun here to give a damn .
the script has a few lapses , namely that after discovering several breaches in the hull of the ship caused by a meteorite shower , no one thinks of checking the fuel tanks or the remainder of the ship for damage .
this of course leads to our heroes having to abandon their rescue ship .
also , when one character sacrifices himself , the character takes on a religious demeanor that is completely at odds with the situation .
but the biggest offence in the film is the horrid , intrusive score by ennio morricone .
subtlety is non-existent here .
in fact in some scenes the music becomes so extravagant that dialogue is almost drowned out .
the only sequence in which the score almost works is during the protracted meteorite shower .
the pacing of the film is very leisurely .
after the opening introduction of the characters ( which lasts a full 22 minutes ) , we are finally dropped onto the martian surface .
then , there is another long pause in the plot for more character development , including an elaborate dance sequence in zero gravity .
the film could lose about 30 minutes and actually gain some momentum .
there are so many scenes of talking heads , discussing what we already know is going to happen , that it drags the film to a dead stop .
the good news is that the film is absolutely sumptuous to look at .
the vistas of the planet mars are majestic and awe inspiring .
the design of the numerous spacecraft and suits are all expertly drafted , with a level of realism that hasn't been seen since " 2001 : a space odyssey " .
the visual effects are just stunning , from the space walk sequences , to the visualization of evolution on earth .
the only fault come with the martians themselves , which look more like something out of a plastic model kit than something from another world .
director de palma stages some wonderfully creative scenes through out the film .
the opening sequence alone in a seemingly un-interrupted cut lasting almost 15 minutes ( an homage' to hitchcock's " rope " ) , as we are introduced to all of the characters .
scenes in the rescue ship , with its rotating centrifuge , are just amazing in their execution .
but the nagging question , is the final explanation worth all of this sturm und drang .
sadly it is not .
director brian de palma has crafted an extravagant production .
the set design and visual effects are all arresting .
but it's the comic strip denouncement that ruin what might have been a fine return to good adventurous , thought provoking science fiction .
a disappointing film , but one that might still entertain if you can settle for the visuals .