By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2000
"Red Planet" isn't meant to be funny. It's supposed to be a cool, nail-biting sci-fi thriller about the first manned expedition to Mars. So please quit your yukking at the bad dialogue and get into the mission.
Carrie-Anne Moss and Val Kilmer talk too much in "Red Planet."
I know it's hard. Right at the beginning, it doesn't help matters
when Lt. Cmdr. Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss from "The Matrix") introduces us to her five crew members, reducing everyone to
the space-movie cliches they are.
"Santen," she says, referring to her buffed second-in-command, Air
Force Captain Ted Santen ("Law and Order's" Benjamin Bratt), "A
hothead but a fine copilot."
Then there's the general chatter on board not too stellar.
"I realized science couldn't answer the really interesting questions,' drones Chief Science Officer Bud Chantilas (Terence Stamp). "So I turned to philosophy. I've been searching for God ever since."
Excellent mental evolution, dude.
The year is 2057 and the spaceship Mars-1 has just made the six-month voyage to Planet Red. Earth's atmosphere is going kaput, so colonization is vital. The crew
including medical systems engineer Gallagher (Val Kilmer), Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore) and
Dr. Chip Pettengill (Simon Baker) is trying to investigate what went
wrong with the failed Mars Terraforming Project.
Also on board: a transformer-type mapping and exploration robot known as AMEE (her full name: Autonomous Mapping Evaluation and Evasion) that switches from nice mode to "military" when
As Mars-1 prepares to land, a gamma burst flat-lines the ship,
null-and-voiding most engine functions. The crew can't even eject by shuttle to the planet, unless someone remains on board to manually operate the launch. Bowman does the
honors. She stays aboard, while the guys suit up and get ready for a
After a bouncy landing on the mountainous terrain, the five men
emerge with no radio contact and just enough oxygen to hoof it to the
Mars habitat (HAB), a living center with 26 months of air, food and water. But they have to find it first. Plus, they've got to deal with the lethal fury of the
malfunctioning AMEE, who doesn't take well to anyone trying to shut
down her system for good.
Predictably, the best thing about "Red Planet" is the visual
scheme. First-time director Antony Hoff
man and production designer Owen Paterson (who also created the fabulous world of "The Matrix") have built one of the coolest space
ships since the one in "Alien." Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, visual effects supervisor Jeffrey A. Okun, sound effects
supervisor Dane Davis and many others deserve mention for the masterful atmospherics, from the scary sounds of
AMEE's airborne, helicopter-like tracking device, to the stunning Martian footage. Speaking of giving credit, a huge hand to the Supreme Being for creating
the remote terrains of Wadi Rum, Jordan (also used for "Lawrence of Arabia"), and Coober Pedy, Australia, which double as the Martian landscape.
Unfortunately, Chuck ("Hard Target") Pfarrer's screenplay feels
older than the Martian hills. Apart from the unctuously slick Holly
wood jabber that we've heard in every space or undersea thriller in
the last 20 years, we've got a no-nonsense female commander known by
her last name, just like Ripley in "Alien," a computer that talks like
HAL in "2001," a crazed robot straight out of "RoboCop" and a cast of
characters whose tired attributes (philosopher, hot dog, cool rebel,
etc.) are weightless when it comes to gravitas. As for those bad
lines, it's too bad those space helmets weren't sound
proofed, so we wouldn't chuckle our way through the suspense. And this
movie would have fared better if the crew members had taken note of
those words from Capt. Santen when they land on Mars: "All this talk
is burning out oxygen, let's move on."
"Red Planet" (PG-13, 110 minutes) Contains some violence and nudity.