Like a Syfy Channel movie – but with better acting and more expensive special effects . . .
STARRING: Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams
2013, 98 Minutes, Directed by: Ruairi Robinson
All things Mars-related have always been box office poison. Most recently for instance Mars Needs Mums and John Carter have lost Disney millions of dollars (John Carter alone set the studio back $200 million). Personally, I never expected another movie with the word “Mars” to be made again. Thus, it is either a ballsy – or outright stupid – move to so prominently feature the word “Mars” in your movie title, even if you did only spend a “mere” 7 million Euros on it.
The movie’s name is of course Last Days on Mars, and it is the work of a first-time director based on a sci-fi short story by Sydney J. Bounds titled “The Animators” (no, I don’t know it either). It kicks off promisingly as we witness a scientific expedition to the red planet wrapping up its specimen gathering expedition.
Six months spent on a cramped spaceship followed by another six months in a cramped facility means that tempers are frayed and short. It is hinted that our hero (played by Liev Schreiber, who you’ll no doubt recognize from movies such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine) suffers from homesickness and depression. So when a team member sneaks off to investigate a find he has kept secret from his fellow scientists, it brings to a boiling point.
Cabin fever is however the least of the expedition’s problems. The rogue scientist has discovered a highly infectious bacterium that turns everyone who is exposed to it into homicidal zombies. The word “zombie” is of course never mentioned, but audience members will know better. Soon it becomes a struggle not merely to survive, but also to prevent the virus from spreading to Earth. It is all very Alien and The Thing. It even has a character leopard crawling through a narrow pipe as we first saw Bishop do back in 1986’s Aliens and have come to expect characters to do in movies such as this.
It would sadly seem that the only brave thing about Last Days on Mars is using the word “Mars” in its title in defiance of all box-office logic. Turns out that Last Days on Mars is nothing but the sort of Alien rip-off one would expect to see on Syfy. Except the acting and production values (sets, music, and special effects) are quite decent and of a much higher quality than anything churned by Syfy right now.
This makes it all rather sad to be honest. As a science fiction fan, I kept on waiting for the story to take some hard science-y turns, maybe the scientists speculating on the origins and purpose of the virus or something like that. Then there are the plot idiocies: it is hinted that the infected team members aren’t mindless zombies. After all, they in one scene apparently use explosives to break their way out of a dome. Yet they are not clever enough to take a Mars rover, preferring instead to hoof it. (Maybe it isn’t cool for zombies to take a Mars rover, who knows?) What if the virus turned the infected crewmembers into more sentient beings? What if they were body snatchers instead of zombies? Even that would have made a small change to the whole mindless zombie thing.
As it is, Last Days on Mars isn’t outright bad. It is just a bit of a wasted opportunity. There are some nice low-budget science fiction movies such as Cube, Moon, Primer, Europa Report, etc. that stand out because of their willingness to take risks instead of following tired old formulas. Last Days on Mars isn’t one of them.
If you are OK with spending 90 minutes of your life on a somewhat underwhelming horror flick set on Mars, then by all means: you’ve done worse than Last Days on Mars. If you were expecting something a little more science fiction-y, then you’d be better off looking elsewhere. Perhaps streaming any of the other titles I’ve mentioned here . . .