Director Brian DePalma makes sure there’s always plenty to look at during Mission to Mars, but his effort adds up to very little in the end. If Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes and this torpid science fiction epic are any evidence, DePalma (Carrie, The Untouchables, Casualties of War) has completely given up trying to tell a story and is focusing solely on creating arresting visual compositions.
Mission to Mars is definitely the work of a supreme stylist, albeit one who not only adds nothing new to the genre, but has actually ripped off dozens of groundbreaking films (particularly Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) to construct this uninspired, hollow spectacle.
The slim storyline concerns our first journey to Mars. When a geological survey uncovers an anomaly which could aid in colonization (the long-term goal), the mission commander (Don Cheadle) heads out to investigate, only to have the angry red planet unleash a deadly windstorm which wipes out his unprepared crew.
A rescue team is formed at the World Space Station: a gung-ho (and amorous) husband-wife team (Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen), an emotionally wounded pilot (Gary Sinise) and the ubiquitous comic relief (Jerry O’Connell). During the interminable time it takes them to reach Mars, the various astronauts’ backstories play out, with only a flashback to Sinise’s late wife (Kim Delaney) providing any insight as to what motivates these people to become space explorers.
Brian DePalma practically caresses the rescue craft with his camera, but the emphasis of Mission to Mars isn’t so much on technology as the human ingenuity it takes to continually deal with the unexpected. In fact, the entire tale (particularly the disappointing and ineffectual denouement) reveals an all-too-human tendency to think we’re the center of the universe.
No matter where we go, there we are.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.