What do you get when you cross the plot of The Martian (2015) with another cliched tale of ethnology gone off the rails? You end up with a marginally entertaining film fated to become one of Val Kilmer’s resume footnotes. It’s not a terrible movie, but it isn’t an especially good one either. It takes a hodgepodge of ideas, wings it and hopes for the best. Another example of someone’s hopes being dashed in the end.
Red Planet is a 2000 attempt at a science fiction thriller directed by Antony Hoffman, starring Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Tom Sizemore. Released on November 10, 2000, it was a critical and commercial failure. Although the film had some great special effects and visuals, it failed to win favor with critics and fans. The movie was Hoffman’s only feature film; he primarily directed television commercials, and that may have been the problem. The story had some interesting ideas, but they failed to materialize on the screen. The problem may have also been a plot overstuffed with ideas leading to the film lacking in focus.
The story is based on the idea that in 2056 A.D., Earth is in an ecological crisis as a consequence of pollution and overpopulation. Automated interplanetary missions have been seeding Mars with atmosphere-producing algae as the first stage of terraforming the planet. When the oxygen quantity produced by the algae is inexplicably reduced, the crew of Mars-1 investigate—a crew consisting of Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), an agnostic geneticist; Bud Chantillas (Terrance Stamp), an aging philosophical scientist and surgeon; systems engineer Robby Gallagher (Val Kilmer); Commander Kate Bowman (Carie-Anne Moss); pilot Ted Santen (Benjamin Bratt); and terraforming scientist Chip Pettengill (Simon Baker).
This story may have some basis in fact, Doyon think all the interest in colonizing Mars lately is just Wilde science with nothing better to do? Do you think the rich and privileged would hesitate for a moment to migrate to Mars, and leave the rest of us behind if the situation here on Earth became critical? (it has)
Like another film released around the same time, Mission To Mars (2000), things start to go wrong almost immediately, putting the all-star cast into deep trouble. Mars 1 is damaged in arrival, Bowman remains aboard for repair while the others land to locate an automated habitat (HAB 1) established earlier to manufacture food and oxygen. During insertion, the team’s landing craft is damaged and lands off-course. In the aftermath, “AMEE” (Autonomous Mapping Exploration and Evasion)—a military robot programmed to guide them—is lost, and Chantillas suffers a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding and tells the others to leave him behind. Santen refuses, but Chantillas tells them that they have limited oxygen left to make it to HAB 1. Chantillas tells Gallagher that it is all right, as he got to see Mars for the first time. The crew leaves to allow Chantillas to die in peace. In orbit around Mars, Bowman contacts Houston, which informs her that Mars-1 is in a decaying orbit, but offers hope of restoring engine function in departing Mars.
There is an accidental death designed to add tension to an already cluttered story. Add to that AMEE goes nuts and gets stuck in a mode where it basically becomes a surrogate terminator that is hunting the survivors down and picking them off one by one. There is the discovery of an insect species that stores oxygen in its body thus making it highly flammable. There is also a subplot of a budding romance between Kilmer and Moss.
Kilmer as the lone survivor, like Matt Damon in The Martian, ‘sciences the hell’ out of the situation, and not only outwits the now deadly AMEE, but manages to find a way to launch a lander left over from an earlier mission, and barely manages to rendezvous with the ship in orbit so he and Moss can smooch all the all the way home. The end. Swing and a miss.