Despite a big budget, an all-star cast and everything else, sometimes you still end up with just a pretty good ‘B’ movie.
Mission To Mars represents an early 21st-century effort to bring a more grounded and realistic style of science fiction into the mix, and despite having higher ambitions, excellent production quality, and an all-star cast, it just misses the mark at being the top-notch outer space adventure film it sets out to be.
Directed by Brian De Palma from an original screenplay written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, and Graham Yost. It tells the story of a 2020 manned Mars exploration mission that goes awry, but that has a surprising conclusion designed to be mind-blowing, that only partly succeeds. American astronaut Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise) coordinates a rescue mission for a colleague. Principal support actors were Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, and Kim Delaney.
The film’s narrative about a close encounter with an ancient alien race and the man destined to visit their world in another galaxy is only mildly successful in its attempt to be the big twist at the end of a somewhat melodramatic science fiction film. The story of being ‘the one’ destined to travel beyond the stars and meet an advanced alien race is not a new one and has been around since the fifties and sixties as a theme often found in YA genre literature.
The film is an object lesson in movies that despite having everything in place to make a genuinely great and memorable film, sometimes a production comes up short because of the missing X factor. Making a good quality film is a massive undertaking involving hundreds of people and thousands of parts. I an convinced the magic of having a thousand little things fall into place just right, in other words, plain dumb luck, is what makes the difference between winding up with a pretty good movie and a great film and a genuine classic.
The film has its moments and is visually impressive, but as any fan can tell you, it takes more than special effects to make a great science fiction film. It had a plot that looked at objectively could just as easily been the basis for a great movie, but instead became a movie that critics responded to unfavorably, and never quite achieved its ambitions to be the great science fiction movie it set out to be.
In a display of cultural schisms, the film was very well received in France and even earned a rating as being in fourth place on that country’s list for the best ten films of the year 2000. Just goes to show you, it takes all kinds. I don’t think the movie is as bad as some critics seemed to think, Mission To Mars was just a somewhat mediocre, sometimes distractingly sappy attempt at being something more significant than it ended up being.
For me, one of the film’s detractions was Gary Sinise as Mr. Bummer astronaut Jim McConnell, the astronaut that didn’t make the cut, this time around, and had been on an earlier mission where he lost his fellow astronaut wife. All the other astronauts are forced to walk around him on eggshells because he’s so bravely, but barely containing his grief.
Another thing that didn’t work for me was that despite having an all-star cast, the film never quite gels as far as the chemistry between the actors goes. That’s the thing about this movie, its a lot of little things that make it fall short of its mission to be great entertainment, despite having everything in place to succeed. Still, all in all, it holds up pretty well after all these years, and there are things to like about this film. It comes close, but no cigar.