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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
DECADE LISTS: MISSION TO MARS

Okay, so it's been a week since I promised the decade list summaries, but here they come, beginning with this post about Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars, which several critics and bloggers fondly remembered as they recalled the first decade of the new millenium. Here are the lists and links...

Benjamin Strong, The L Magazine
Regarding the year 2000, Strong wrote, "The Oscar-winning Best Picture may have been Ridley Scott's Gladiator, with its turgid, fake-looking battles inside a computer generated Coliseum. But in terms of special effects and pure movie spectacle, late-breaking science fiction pictures like Transformers or Avatar still can't hold a candle to Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars, 2000's most woefully overlooked picture, and one of the most beautiful-looking outer space movies ever made."

Also at the L Magazine, Matt Zoller Seitz put together an "End-of-Decade Clip Party" called We Love the Aughties, the first part of which included a scene from Mission To Mars.

Ryan Kelly, Medfly Quarantine
Kelly discusses Mission To Mars in his chronological list of "the movies that mattered most" to him during the decade in question. "For me, the first great movie of the decade, and also among its most reviled, though why I'm not exactly sure. But it's a wild, bold, and beautiful take on our place in the Universe, and the miracle and wonder of existence --- simultaneously sophisticated and pulpy." (There is more discussion of Mission To Mars in the comments section of Kelly's post.)

Rob Humanick, Slant Magazine
The Slant Staff placed Mission To Mars at number 80 on its list of the 100 best films of the decade. Of the film, Humanick wrote, "An argumentative line in the sand for what cinema means, Mission to Mars might be the greatest '50s sci-fi film ever, even if came half a century late. 2001 by way of irony-deprived B-movie euphoria, this wide-eyed space odyssey subverts big budget expectations with bigger feelings, actively and eagerly engaging one with expressionist emotion. Like Kubrick's masterpiece, Mars takes comfort in the probability of life elsewhere but more profoundly does it appreciate what human life means to itself. The film ponders and posits, elevating those thoughts to religious wonder. Where did we come from? We may never know, but we can always dance the night away." In the comments section, "dbe2101" wrote that "Mission to Mars is neither a good film nor a watchable one," which prompted Humanick to reply: "Well, dbe2101, gonna have to disagree with you... I for one am glad to be in the purported minority—not loving Mission to Mars seems like not loving life. But obviously, it's not that simple."

Chris Stangl, The Exploding Kinetoscope
Stangl went year-by-year as he began to build a list of 100 memorable films from the decade, placing Mission To Mars at number 6 for the year 2000. Stangl wrote:

"'Drifting through eternity will ruin your whole day.' So goes some wisdom from Brian De Palma’s marvelous spaceman thriller. Mission to Mars is practically a humanist retort to 2001: A Space Odyssey, its climactic moments dedicated to a pretty and inspiring filmstrip on biological evolution on Earth. Containing something to bewilder or sour nearly ever viewer, even the film’s final statement of wonder is marred by one badly designed transitional era CG alien effect. But all De Palma films have a little of this wonder, and no small amount of dread, as starry-eyed humans are ricocheted around a cosmic pool table along networks too daft to make sense of, dragged by forces they cannot see. Mission does, in its finale, marvel at nature, but until then it is variously spooked and awe-struck.

"The climax of physical action occurs in the black void, of course, stranded between heaven and earth (well... between spaceship and Mars), safe home and unknown adventure, chilly womb and blazing death. The suspense device is of properly calibrating jet pack thrusters and conserving limited fuel supplies; the moral questions are of the same stuff: applied force, inertia, impossible choice and aiming carefully while navigating through space.

"One zero G setpiece alone sees the director pushing the cinematic apparatus’ ability to organize space and time to a new plane: it is a De Palma Future. As the ship is about to enter orbit around Mars, a micrometeorite barrage perforates the hull, one space suit helmet, and one astronaut’s hand: bam, bam, bam, these are the crises in poetic simplicity, tiny rocks hurtling through infinity just to fuck up four heroes. The ensuing repair effort is a suspense scene of elaborate construction without parallel... except in the De Palma canon. Beginning with the image of atomized blood globules swirling lazily about the pristine ship, the sequence expands and flows into airless abstract 3D museum diorama. As four crewmembers undertake separate tasks in different locations and the atmosphere rapidly suctions out of the craft, their work unites the action, a seamless vignette about punctured seams. The source of the first leak is detected via the floating blood droplets, the second by a serendipitous packet of Dr. Pepper. The pieces and particles flocking in one direction to create a whole, the scene snakes through space, inside and outside, perfectly oriented in a place where up and down do not apply and time is the crucial dimension. Linked in purpose, discrete no longer, like the chromosomes sent to a blue planet from a red one, like the astronaut’s DNA model built of M&M’s, like the Dr. Pepper and the blood, like the clouds of Martian dust. Like pictures threaded in sequence, moving in time together to tell a story."

Eugene Novikov, Cinematical
Novikov listed his favorite science fiction films of the decade, and included Mission To Mars and Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher under the heading, "Most Underappreciated," writing, "I will admit that my uncommon patience with De Palma's visual style and his starry-eyed desire to ape Kubrick may have contributed to my appreciation of Mission to Mars. Dreamcatcher I thought was mistreated -- the tonal shifts and occasional plunges into goofiness seemed like shrewd choices rather than mistakes to me. But I'm probably not going to convince anyone about either of these."

Tiago Costa, Claquete
After posting his top 20 of the decade in order of preference, Costa listed "the rest in any order"-- but that list begins with Mission To Mars.

Tom, I Hate Popcorn
Finally, in a blog post that has disappeared since it was posted December 24, 2009, Tom placed Mission To Mars at number 24 on his list of the 25 best films of the decade. I will post Tom's full list in the Femme Fatale post, either today or tomorrow.


Posted by Geoff at 4:43 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 4:52 PM CST
Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink | Share This Post

Thursday, January 13, 2011 - 2:20 PM CST

Name: "Arni"

Just want to thank you for this great website. Being a De Palma fan, I check it almost every day. Keep up the excellent work! 

Friday, January 14, 2011 - 1:23 AM CST

Name: "Geoff"
Home Page: http://www.briandepalma.org

Thanks, Arni!

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