Volume 93, Issue 87

Wednesday, March 15, 2000


Ninth Gate leads to intrigue, mystery

ArtLab exhibit pauses to ponder technology

Festival showcases film talent

N'Dour comes through with sublime new effort

Stunning effects make Mission

Stunning effects make Mission

©Photo by Rob McEwan
"HEY! I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO WAIT IN THE CAR!" Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins and Jerry O'Connell mug in front of the blue screen for Brian De Palma's latest film, Mission to Mars.

By Chad Finkelstein
Gazette Staff

Dictionary definition of slump: to sink or decline heavily. Cinematic definition of slump: Mission to Mars.

Maybe it's unfair to label Hollywood's latest space exploration as such, as it's more of a consistent waste of talent. The movie itself is bearable, falling uncomfortably between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact, but it is definitely a thundering disappointment considering its capable pedigree.

Most notably, director Brian de Palma and star Gary Sinise orbit around stagnation following their previous collaboration, the uninspired and irritating Snake Eyes. In addition, Tim Robbins constantly appears confused as to exactly what he's doing in the film.

The first half–hour of Mission to Mars certainly warrants the price of admission. In the year 2020, NASA has finally assembled the equipment and personnel to travel to the red planet. Luke, played by the always interesting Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights), leads a crew of two Russians and an American to plant the first footprint on Martian terrain. His buddies, Jim (Sinise) and Woody (Robbins) hover patiently in the mission control centre, waiting to analyze their discoveries.

Among the revelations, Luke's team stumbles across the same notorious facial expression grounded in the sand which was discovered on a real life Mars probe mission. Everything goes to hell when a sandstorm strikes, horrifically devouring the other three astronauts in a flurry of wonder and mayhem accentuated by technical mastery. Luke sends a fragmented SOS to mission control and both Jim and Woody lunge at the rescue opportunity.

Without giving too much away, some of the heroes make it on Mars and some don't. The focus of the movie revolves around the mystery they uncover when they arrive.

Mission to Mars is a visually stunning tribute to the always astounding possibilities of special effects wizardry, but those F/X visionaries are the only ones who deserve any glory in this effort.

To its credit, this film is almost always interesting – as laughable as some scenarios get, one is not likely to get bored. Mission to Mars is certainly captivating when it concentrates on exploration, disasters or space travel, but once any of the characters start talking, everything falls apart.

The performances are annoying and the scripted material borders on infantile. The result of this deadly combination is a large number of segments which are generally groan-worthy. In addition, none of the actors ever seem comfortable performing in front of a blue screen. Admittedly, it must be difficult to pretend to be overwhelmed at the single most significant revelation in the history of mankind, but any potential for this emotion is lost when the actors stare blandly through the screen, completely void of expression.

De Palma tries to create mysticism by using long and complicated camera shots which glide with the grace of a roller–coaster. At some points Mission to Mars even rivals The Blair Witch Project for the most vomit-inducing camera angles. Maybe this effectively simulates space travel, but any audience could probably grasp the concept without nauseating cinematography.

At its core, Mission to Mars is scientific, colourful and alive. However, the dialogue is so insipid and the premise so ridiculously idealistic, that it doesn't amount to much more than a regrettable two hour diversion.

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