Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mars Curious? The Red Planet on the big screen

Posted By on Sun, Aug 5, 2012 at 8:55 AM

As we all anxiously await Curiosity's landing in the wee hours of Monday morning, let's take a look at a few of (errr) Our Favorite Martian movies.

Let's start with the ones where they visit us:

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Robert Wise (whose genre expertise ranged from musicals West Side Story and The Sound of Music to war pictures Run Silent, Run Deep and Destination Gobi to films noir like I Want to Live to horror classics like The Body Snatcher to science fiction masterpieces like this, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He also edited Citizen Kane. Note: though the film does not explicitly say that Klatuu and Gort hail from Mars, consider this, the trailer says "They Came 250 Million Miles..." which by my Googled math equates to the distance between Earth and Mars ("At their most distant, the two planets can be 401 million km apart. That converts to 249,169,848.087 miles.")

More after the jump:

Mars Attacks (1996)
Tim Burton's twisted, subversive, satiristic send-up of 50's sci-fi was poorly received in the wake of the staight forward shoot-'em-up jingoism of Independence Day. After a few years in the cellar, the film has aged quite nicely. Maybe it's something to do with lowered expectations, or that we usually happen upon it while flipping channels, but there is no denying the film's gripping absurdity. Skewering the feel-good-ism of Annette Benning's New Age spiritualism? Pierce Brosnon as a pipe-smoking, white jacketed scientist? Jack Nicholson going Peter Sellers in dual roles as President and a Casino magnate? Slim Whitman's yodeling saves human-kind?

War of the Worlds (2005)
Let's face it, Spielberg's the one who made aliens all touchy feely with both Close Encounters and E.T., so it's only right that he restored equilibrium by returning the "us-against-them" xenophobic that defines the alien invasion genre with his terrifying take on the H.G. Wells classic:

Here are a few where we make contact:
Total Recall (1990)
Forget the remake (we already have) and stick with Paul Verhoven's acerbic original. Young Arnold, pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone. Ultra-violence. Wit. (Does anybody remember laughter?)

This rotoscoped animated indie film featuring Mark Duplass has been called mumblecore meets sci-fi. (Come to think of it, any film with Mark Duplass in it and an ambitious high concept might get glossed similarly.) Despite it's sci-fi trappings, MARS is really just a quirky, off-beat love story. Bonus: Kinky Friedman as the President! Geoff Marslett trumps Burton with the most inspired Executive casting decision.
MARS - The Movie [HD Trailer] from Geoff Marslett on Vimeo.

Here are few that are campy, crappy, or otherwise off course:

John Carter
I'd say something snarky about the film, but I didn't see it. And neither did you, so stop frontin'. Ironically, the trailer has 7 million views on YouTube. While the film tanked in the U.S. at $73 million, it actually performed quite well overseas grossing $209 million, so it's not the punchline it's been

Mission to Mars
Genre maven Brian de Palma's foray into big budget sci-fi is (like so many of his films) just a tad overwrought. As a piece of high camp, it's an underrated treasure.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
The "MST3K" treatment says it all:

Abbot and Costello Go to Mars

Q: Why did the comedy duo make this movie?
A: I don't know. And I don't care.
Q: What was that?
A:I said, I DON'T CARE!
Q: Oh, that's our shortstop!
...aaaaaaand scene!

Mars Needs Moms
A total misfire, the motion capture process lands this entire film squarely in the uncanny valley. Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern said it best, and most succinctly: "Mars may need moms, but Earth needs good movies, and this isn't one of them."

What Mars movie do you think should be added to the wall of fame or shame?

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