Red Menace – Why Can’t Hollywood Make a Decent Film About Mars?
The red planet may be our best hope of colonization sometime in the future, but if Hollywood is any indication of where things are headed, perhaps we’re better off just sticking with the moon for future generations!
I consider myself a fairly well-traveled sci-fi fan. Classic or modern, B-movie or blockbuster – I rarely turn down an opportunity to visit another galaxy, be it far, far away or not. Yet for whatever reason, I cannot understand why Mars comes up short in just about every film I’ve seen where the planet features prominently.
For some reason there was a big Mars kick right around the millennium – just like New Jack Swing, it was a temporary movement, but it helped turn the red planet into the black hole of the solar system. You had three directors trying their hand: John Carpenter with Ghosts of Mars (2001), Brian De Palma with Mission to Mars (2000) and Anthony Hoffman with Red Planet (2000). None of the three movies met with much critical success and Hoffman was so scarred by the experience he hasn’t directed another movie since, but that’s what you get for working with Val Kilmer!
I was expecting the most from De Palma – the man who gave us Carrie, Scarface and The Untouchables, yet in a way, this was the most disappointing. The story had promise, but the terrible science and silted acting just ruined the entire thing. At least Ghosts of Mars and Red Planet had kind of a B-movie feel to them. Mission to Mars was trying to be completely serious and utterly failed.
These three films essentially made Mars into a no-man’s land for years to come. Yet the blame can’t be put entirely on them. Witness Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! Now, to be fair, this is not an entirely terrible film – seeing as it was based on a series of collectible cards from the 1950s, it turned out pretty decent. It does share Burton’s unique brand of humor but it’s just missing something. I could argue this is one of the director’s few missteps and despite the impressive cast: Jack Nicholson, Natalie Portman, Glenn Close, Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan and Annette Bening amongst others, the film is too absurd for its own good.
You can’t even escape this curse by going back to the heyday of science fiction. The Angry Red Planet gave us a giant bat/spider thing to terrorize our B-movie friends in 1959. Meanwhile, Santa Clause Conquers the Martians is considered on of the worst movies of all time – you know you’re doing well when you’re singled out by Mystery Science Theater 3000!
Even recently, we can’t escape the red menace. Mars Needs Moms was a failure of epic proportions – grossing over just $21 million on a $150 million budget! It was such a big failure that Disney scrapped plans to make other 3D films (including a Yellow Submarine update) and also severed the ties between Disney and filmmaker Robert Zemeckis. While it didn’t kill 3D, it certainly helped critics of the extra dimension throw plenty of fuel on the fire.
Can Mars be all bad? There is hope. War of the Worlds featured Martians coming to earth only to be felled by the common cold (or whatever) instead of the machinations of man. While Steven Spielberg’s version was overly-sentimental, it was still a fun ride. Total Recall is one of the better overall films set on the red planet. Both the story and the action work well, plus who doesn’t like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger dig a huge piece of machinery out of his nose or three-breasted women?
What can we expect from the future of Mars? After mentioning Total Recall, I can also mention that, per Hollywood’s clause with Lucifer to remake any movie that had gotten a “Fresh” rating, in August 2012 we can expect another version of Total Recall with Colin Ferrell, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston. No word on three-breasted women yet. In March of 2012 we’ll also see if John Carter (shortened from John Carter of Mars – perhaps because everyone else remembers the planet is cursed as well) can shake things up. Taylor Kitsch is the titular hero, joined by Dominic West, Mark Strong, Lynn Collins and . . . Bryan Cranston (man must have a thing for Mars).
Will next year’s entries finally remove the stigma of Mars, or will they only bolster the argument that Hollywood can’t get the red planet right? I can’t say yet, but I will probably be in line for both movies – or at least have them lined up for a Netflix rental. I wish the best for our closest solar neighbor, but pardon me if I remain skeptical as I have been fooled too many times in the past.
Chris Kavan is the community manager for FilmCrave.com, a haven for all fans of sci-fi movies. He really holds no grudge against Mars – after all, he doesn’t want to anger the god of war!