The Martian Chronicles (1980)

Actors: Rock Hudson, Gayle Hunnicutt, Bernie Casey, Christopher Connelly, Nicholas Hammond
Michael Anderson
Andrew Donally, Charles M. Fries, Charles W. Fries, Milton Subotsky, Richard Berg
Closed-captioned, Color, DVD-Video, Full Screen, Subtitled, Dolby, Miniseries, NTSC
English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
English, Spanish, French
1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Aspect Ratio:
Number of discs:
MGM (Video & DVD)
DVD Release Date:
September 7, 2004
Run Time:
360 minutes



Mars has huge alien cities and the first astronauts from Earth pitch up in 'Seventies leisure suits in this 1980 TV mini-series.

And that is not to even mention the red planet's water-filled canals, breathable air and even the occasional thunderstorm!

Scientific accuracy however isn't the point on this almost five-hour-long adaptation (starring Rock Hudson) of the anthology of short stories written by sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury, just as it wasn't the point behind Bradbury's original stories. Written in the late 1940s, Bradbury's stories were quite ahead of its time in the way it sees humanity and human history when one thinks about it.

Bradbury has bigger fish to fry than a mere future history of the colonization of Mars (it starts in 1999 in case you were wondering!).

In Bradbury's tales mankind are the alien invaders and not the Martians. His stories not merely serve as a metaphor for the subjugation of native peoples by colonial powers throughout history, but also a condemnation of man's greed and self-destructive ways. Heady stuff for the 1940s!

After all, back then America's belief in Manifest Destiny (look it up) was still pretty much unshaken and this was long, long before James Cameron's Avatar in which a human soldier sides with aliens whose planet are being invaded by Earth forces . . .

The good news for this adaptation is that the teleplay is by science fiction legend Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend and countless Twilight Zone episodes. His teleplay is quite faithful to Bradbury's original source material, which does shine through and makes for an occasionally thoughtful and moving viewing experience.

The bad news is that Michael Anderson (Logan's Run) who is surely one of the most mediocre film directors of all time directs it. Martian Chronicles is glacially slow and overlong.

The low-budget TV special effects are dated even by the standards of the time: it may have been produced several years after the first Star Wars movie, but Martian Chronicles looks worse than a 'Sixties Star Trek episode. It has also dated badly, right from the disco era soundtrack by Stanley Meyers of all people (Meyers is best known for having composed the well-known theme music for The Deer Hunter!) to those 'Seventies hairstyles and fashions.

Still, some interesting production designs - especially of the alien cities and even the buildings constructed by the human colonists - make up for this.

THE DISCS: Three 90-minute-long episodes are spread over two double-sided discs, which means that one disc's side is left intentionally blank with no data on it! Weird choice that - why not just produce a single-sided second disc? So remember to turn your first disc around to view the rest of the series unlike one user whom actually neglected to do this and complains about missing episodes on that side. There are sadly no extras.

WORTH IT? If you can look past the rotten production values and slow pacing there is a lot to appreciate in Martian Chronicles.

RECOMMENDATION: It is a more cerebral and thought-provoking experience than your average Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster nowadays and is recommended for the literary sort of science fiction fan who reads a lot of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and (yes) Ray Bradbury. Interestingly enough Bradbury himself disliked the mini-series and thought it boring. Bradbury should count his blessings for having such a faithful adaptation made out of one of his works. After A Sound of Thunder we're sure that he would agree . . .



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