De Palma a la Mod - Mission To Mars (2)

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Bill Fentum interviewed Brian
De Palma
upon the release of
Mission To Mars at

Ray Sawhill
Armond White
Charles Taylor
Damien Michael Belliveau
Giuseppe Puccio
Timothy Costello
Michael K. Crowley

M2M SPOILER ALERT At the conclusion of Brian De Palma’s latest film, Mission To Mars, astronauts discover that the Earth they inhabit was seeded by Martians. A groundbreaking new discovery by researchers at Caltech, Vanderbildt and McGill universities has found that living organisms are indeed able to survive the trip through the solar system embedded, perhaps not in a rocket ship as in the fantasy of the film, but in the relatively cool womb of a meteorite. Scientists are looking at this as a serious alternative to previous assumptions about the way life may have developed here on Earth—that Martians may indeed be our ancestors.

According to, the rock in question was found stuck in Antarctica’s Allen Hills ice field in 1984. The meteorite, which is one of the most studied and debated rocks in the universe, is believed to be made of stuff 4.5 billion years old that was carved from a half-mile under the Martian surface about 16 million years ago, when the planet was hit by an asteroid or comet. Earth’s gravity probably grabbed it in somewhere between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. A widely-doubted 1996 study claimed to find fossilized trails on the rock of microbial life that originated on Mars. The new study, published in the October 27 issue of the journal Science, does not claim that life exists on the rock (only signatures of life), but that space rocks are capable of transporting organisms around the solar system. With roughly a ton of Martian rocks falling on Earth every year, the study gives a boost to panspermia, the idea that life on Earth may have resulted from the evolution of germs or other dormant organisms transported via this "interplanetary shuttle system." "If there’s microbial life on Mars," astronomer Donald Brownlee told, "it must be carried to Earth." Brownlee, who was not involved with the study, but is familiar with it, pointed out that a trip from Mars to Earth, which for some rocks takes less than a year, is much less hazardous than if a rock has to spend millions of years in interstellar space, where any genetic material on the rock would likely be destroyed by cosmic rays. Brownlee’s book, Rare Earth, contends that we humans are a rare complex species in the world, but the author believes that microbial life may be widespread in our galaxy and elsewhere.

In the study, lead author Benjamin Weiss of the California Institute of Technology worked with Caltech geobiology professor Joseph Kirschvink and others, testing several millimeter-thin slices of the meteorite, using a device that detects differences in the magnetic orientation of lines in the rock. The rock's surface showed an expected Earth orientation, as a rock hurtling toward a destination is known to reorient its magnetization according to the local field. But when the researchers delved inside the rock's surface, they discovered a random magnetic orientation which indicates that the interior of the meteorite had kept its cool on its plummeting trip to Earth. Heating a slice of that interior, the researchers found that the rock would have had to have reached a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit before demagnetizing and setting itself up for reorientation. But the rock itself had never reached that threshold before being tested in the lab. Explaining how the rock could stay so cool inside during its tumultuous trip, Weiss explained to that rock isn't exactly the best heat conductor, so it takes a long time for heat to penetrate to the interior. Compared to the several minutes a potato-sized rock spends being heated in the atmosphere, Weiss said, the diffusion time to the center of that rock is significantly longer. Also, melted bits fly off the rock, carrying heat away and preserving the coolness of the potential "womb" inside.

On Thursday, October 26 2000, NASA unveiled plans for six robotic missions to Mars over the next 15 years, a reorganization of schedules and targets that Mars program director Scott Hubbard said is directed toward two fundamental questions: "Did life arise there, and is life there now?" The revised plan takes into account the possibility that Mars may have some surprises in store for space scientists (not to mention the human race in general), and is thus made to be flexible, while at the same time determined to "follow the water" in the search for possible past or present life on the planet.

NASA has lined up a series of pathfinder missions consisting of robotic orbiters, landers, and wheeled rover vehicles, with the goal of eventually sending humans to Mars. The flexible program is designed to build toward sending a robot that will land on Mars, scoop up rock samples, and return them to Earth. The plan looks for this to happen in 2014 and 2016, but keeps in mind that the hoped-for success of missions in the first decade that are designed to phase in increasingly complex science and engineering may allow for such a robotic sample return to happen as early as 2011. "Ultimately, we want to go to Mars and get a sample and bring it back to Earth," said Ed Weiler, head of NASA’s office of space science. "But we have to be very, very sure that that billion dollar mission to go get a sample is going to the right place on Mars."

NASA plans to spend as much as $450 million a year on the following investigative efforts:

2001 -- The Mars Odyssey Orbiter, a high-resolution mapping and imaging observer.

2003 -- Two Mars Exploration Rovers that will search for water and other geological details.

2005 -- A Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter modeled on the agency’s Mars Global Surveyor, with the added capability of taking microscopic images as small as 30 centimeters in diameter.

2007 -- A "smart" surface lander that can carry up to 600 pounds of scientific instruments and will be equipped with a hazard avoidance system and precision landing capability. The agency also plans a "Scout" mission for 2007 that may entail a small Beagle 2-type lander, or even a balloon or an airplane, two ideas which have been proposed recently. 2007 may also see NASA collaborating with the Italian space agency or the French on Mars-related orbiters and landers.

2009 -- NASA may join the Italians again on a follow-up to the European Space Agency’s planned 2003 Mars Express mission, which involves a ground-penetrating radar probe that looks for water on the planet.

2011 -- Previously planned for 2005, NASA’s revised program sees a long-term effort to bring soil samples from Mars to Earth beginning as early as 2011, but more reasonably by 2014.

Speculation about NASA making these announcements so close to election day were countered by NASA officials who insisted that the space agency had been planning for the conference date for six months. No one seemed curious, though, about the fact that another major motion picture about Mars exploration, Warner Bros.' Red Planet, opens November 10 2000, just three days after the election. Despite NASA refusing to lend its support to the upcoming film (as it had to Disney’s Mission To Mars and to Warner Bros.' Space Cowboys earlier in the year), the timing of all this activity (releasing over 30,000 new images of the planet on the web, releasing another new image with the pointed speculation that water may be flowing on Mars, and now the new revised Mars program announcement) is remarkably complementary.

DO YOU PREFER PEPSI OR COKE? polled the two major candidates in the U.S. Presidential race two weeks prior to election day, finding (surprise, surprise) very little difference between Democratic candidate Al Gore and Republican candidate George W. Bush in regards to space policy. The slight differences in the candidates' philosophies, however, would lead Gore to stick with NASA’s "faster, better, cheaper" mantra, while Bush would take a more cautious approach. Both major candidates support completing the International Space Station and preparing for a possible manned mission to Mars. Again, Gore was more adamant on the issue than Bush, saying, "I firmly believe that sending humans to Mars must be a goal that we achieve in the 21st century."

But unless a humans-to-Mars program is mounted in the next decade, warns Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, we may have to wait a long, long time for it to happen at all. Zubrin was speaking at Think Mars, a conference of top scientists held October 20-22 2000 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He expressed his concern to the audience that the retirement of the baby boom generation from the 1940s may close the window of opportunity for initiating a humans-to-Mars program, saying "all the incredible technological capabilities that were created in response to World War 2 and the Cold War will be allowed to wither away." Zubrin explained it this way to "The baby boom generation began in 1945. Add 65 years to that and 2010 or so is when the baby boomers start to retire. By around 2015, you’ll have a much larger group that is retired being supported by a smaller group that is working. So the financial picture is going to darken." Fortunately, NASA has a new program designed to ward off the Big Chill.

Sources for this story were, Reuters, and Associated Press.

On Monday, October 16 2000, NASA/JPL and Michael Malin released over 30,000 images of Mars' surface taken by Malin Space Science Systems' Mars Orbiter Camera, which is currently orbiting the planet aboard the Mars Global Surveyor. The images cover the period from September 1999 to February 2000. Combined with the 20,000-plus images Malin released on Monday, May 22 2000, which covered one full Mars year (or 687 Earth days, from September 1997 to August 1999), over 50,000 images are available for the public to peruse on the web. The images are laid out in "a web-based photo album" at Malin's web site,, without captions or explanation, so that, according to a press release by NASA/JPL, viewers can explore the photos just like the scientists who study them do: "What's this? What's that?"
NASA/JPL's Mars Global Surveyor has found a nice way to celebrate the beginning of its fourth year of orbit around the red planet--snapping the above image of three major valley systems that some believe were carved by torrents of water at some distant point in the Martian past. The image was captured September 13th 2000 by Michael Malin's Mars Orbiter Camera, and covers about 500 miles across, with North to the left and the sun extending light from the lower left. In it, you can see, from left to right, the Dao, Niger, and Harmakhis valleys, which lie east of the Hellas plains. The Dao Vallis may be targeted by future robotic missions to Mars exploring how ground water may have helped form the valley system. To see the image in larger detail and get more information, visit the Malin Space Science Systems website.
NASA held a press conference on Thursday, June 22nd, an hour after the journal Science offered an early version of a paper that suggests "compelling evidence" of liquid water existing within the surface of Mars. The paper, written by Michael Malin and Kenneth Edgett, was to be published in the journal on June 30th, but quick word of mouth on the internet (such as SPACE.Com) and media speculation caused the journal and NASA to release the findings sooner than they all wanted. Panelists at the NASA press conference, which included authors Malin and Edgett, expressed consistent desires to have been better prepared to share their information with the public and media, with Edgett repeatedly saying they would have had an animated cartoon that illustrates their hypothesis ready if they had had the extra week to prepare. Despite this, Malin and Edgett were very excited to talk about their findings, with Malin adding that they (NASA) are giving the public back what it has paid for with its taxes. The panel stressed that while this paper suggests very compelling evidence that water may be seeping up from underneath the Mars surface as recently as yesterday, this is by no means actual proof of liquid water on Mars. Malin looked forward to Mars exploration, saying that the only way to really get proof is to have someone on the planet with a pick to actually dig in and discover first hand. However, the suggestion of liquid water in certain images taken by Malin's Mars Orbiter Camera, which is currently orbiting the planet aboard NASA/JPL's Mars Global Surveyor, offers NASA specific destinations to aim for when sending probes and, hopefully, humans to Mars.

"Follow the water" was the slogan of the conference, referring to the fact that wherever water has been found on Earth, life has found a way to exist as well. NASA has known for a long time that there is water on Mars, but that was frozen water. The suggestion of liquid water rising up to the planet's surface periodically offers a whole new playing field of possibilities that NASA hopes will spark renewed interest in what has previously been deemed its "dead" Mars program.


Andy Dursin sits up and takes notice of Ennio Morricone's Mission To Mars score. You can read his thoughts at Film Score Monthly.
Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars made its French debut Friday, May 12th, when it screened out of competition at the 53rd Annual Cannes Film Festival. When asked if he is going to continue to make technically challenging pictures like Mission: Impossible and Mission To Mars, De Palma told a French TV interviewer that he is done with that kind of moviemaking, saying that if he does anything else, it will be a smaller film with no special effects. He then mentioned that as he looked around him at the hotel, his mind begins "imagining stories that could happen to these people." De Palma told the interviewer that he planned to stay in France for "some time." (Special thanks to Screenfreekz at the "Directed By Brian De Palma" Forum for the interview info.)

De Palma was much more irritated with the press at a Cannes press conference for Mission To Mars. According to ABC News, De Palma snapped back when he heard the word "homage," saying, "What does that mean? That I'm a rip-off artist?" The director went on to say that early in his career, he made the "error" of trying to learn about filmmaking by studying Hitchcock, and that he has been branded a "homage" filmmaker by the press ever since. When chided by the moderator for his quick replies, De Palma expressed his desire to move things along. He clearly wanted to get it over with, saying that he prefers to go to festivals to watch films, not promote them. He had some nice things to say about the NASA scientists who worked on the film, and when asked about having any reservations about replacing Gore Verbinski, the original director on Mission To Mars, De Palma said, "The director of Mouse Hunt? No. And Disney was happy to have me." You can read the entire ABC News story by clicking here.

Dr. Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems released eight new photos April 5th of the Cydonia region of Mars. The photos were taken by the laboratory's Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) aboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) between April 1998 and April 2000. An attempt to take a photo of a portion of the "Face" was thwarted this past February when the MGS spacecraft "experienced a sequencing error and most of that day's data were not returned to Earth." The new photos can be viewed at Malin's web site.

In a statement presented on April 6th, Dr. Horace Crater, president of the Society for Planetary SETI Research (SPSR), thanked NASA/JPL for releasing the new Cydonia images, and extended his laboratory's excitement at getting started on scientific analysis of the new data. But he added, "Of course, to settle this scientific investigation we still need to get a clear and complete image of the 'Face' and are hopeful that this can be achieved on either of the upcoming Cydonia flyovers on June 17th or September 13th, which were first calculated and publically announced by SPSR analyst Peter Nerbun." (For more on Nerbun's calculations, see the story at the bottom of this page.)

On Art Bell's Coast To Coast radio show April 6th, author Richard C. Hoagland suggested that these new images of Cydonia have been "sitting in Malin's desk drawer." This is pertinent because Congress recently passed a law that states that any scientific projects paid for by our U.S. tax dollars must be accessible immediately. And according to Nerbun, "Malin's web site is highly automated, and can quickly post new imagery if he so desires." Apparently, prior to the new law, Malin had a contract with NASA/JPL that said Mars images (which are being taken from the MGS currently orbiting the planet) are to be released in six-month cycles, but the imaging team was previously running about three months behind. Nerbun was expecting the new set of images to cover the period through September 30, 1999, but Malin's new set goes all the way to the current month of April 2000, suggesting that perhaps he is now aware of the new law (if he wasn't aware of it before). "He's been accumulating them," Hoagland told Bell. "He's been sitting on them. He's been hoarding them."

According to Mark Stewart at Film.Com, the web site had originally listed Mission To Mars as running 165-minutes "based on a very early theater preview (critics only)." Stewart said that they unfortunately do not have any records as to the exact screening or date of the considerably lengthier cut, which runs 52 minutes longer than the one currently in theaters. I guess we can keep our fingers crossed for a DVD specialty. Meanwhile, Stewart mentioned that the running time listing has since been "fixed" at the site.
New York Press film critic Armond White is back this week, responding to his readers' requests "for a fuller accounting of Mission To Mars' pleasures." You can read the full review by clicking here.
"EARTH TO BRIAN DE PALMA," calls out Paul Davids, columnist for AlienZoo.Com. "-- DO YOU READ US?" Davids writes about the premiere party for Erin Brockovich, claiming that the real talk of the party was how well Mission To Mars did despite the negative reviews, and speculates on the possible reasons for De Palma's disappearance. Click here to read the article.
New York Press film critic Armond White sees the beauty in De Palma's new film: "Brian De Palma's critical drubbing over Mission To Mars--reminiscent of the scene in Airplane! where passengers line up to smack an old lady--is the clearest evidence of the catastrophe that has befallen contemporary film criticism..." (Click here to read more).
Brian De Palma contacted webmaster Bill Fentum March 9th, saying he wanted the only U.S. interview he does for Mission To Mars to be on Fentum's web site. De Palma, who suddenly disappeared during press junket screenings for the film, said that he made this decision because he feels that press junkets are too exploitative. You can read the interview by clicking here.

Fentum has built an outstanding web site with Directed By Brian De Palma, recently adding a forum on which discussions about De Palma's work is flourishing. Fentum also scored an exclusive interview recently with Keith Gordon, who starred in two films back-to-back for De Palma in 1979-1980. You can read the first part of the interview in the Home Movies section of the site, and the other half in the Dressed To Kill section. Keep up the great work, Bill!

Speaking of Keith Gordon, his fourth film as director, Waking The Dead, opened on March 24th. Executive-produced by Jodi Foster, the film stars Billy Crudup as an aspiring politician who begins to wonder if his deceased activist girlfriend, played by Jennifer Connelly, might still be alive.

On Mission To Mars - Ray Sawhill
On Morricone's score - James Southall
(although Southall is mistaken to say that the film does not deserve its score)
(This article may contain spoilers)
Tickled pink that Richard Corliss in Time magazine pegged The Monuments Of Mars as an inspiration to Brian De Palma's new film, radio talk show host Art Bell interviewed that book's author, Richard C. Hoagland, Tuesday evening to get his views on Mission To Mars. Hoagland, who once worked as a NASA consultant to NBC and CBS in the 1960s, liked the film very much, calling it a multi-layered, complex work of art. When Bell, who didn't like it as much, complained about the things he thought were missing from the film (like the take-off launches), Hoagland offered that this was part of De Palma's coded message that the mission was top secret. Hoagland offered as another clue the opening scene where the astronaut Luke Graham tells his son that he will read from the same book every night, so that it is like they are reading together. Even on today's Space Shuttle designs, Hoagland said, they have what they call "family time," where the astronauts can communicate with their families by telescreen. The fact that in 2020 this astronaut would not be able (or, more specifically, allowed) to do so suggests a very top secret mission, which is also why we see no lift-off from Earth. Bell then pointed out that the fact that "voice-print identification" was needed on the ship (echoing Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey) indicated that SOMEONE on the mission knew more than the others. Hoagland agreed, and kept insisting that the key to the film is to look for what is not there, what is missing.

Also on the show was Canadian journalist David Giammarco, who has been trying to locate De Palma for an interview all week long, to no avail. De Palma was probably not too happy about the negative buzz going on about the film, but Bell suggested that De Palma has "pulled a fast one" on NASA, and is lying low, or else he is upset, Bell says, because there may have been things that De Palma wanted in the film that he was told to leave out. Bell and Hoagland seemed to agree it was possible that De Palma actually shot "two films," as they wondered where the rest of Cydonia was (they both noticed that it appears on a region of a map in part of the film). But as another guest, Hoagland collaborator Kynthia, said, the title legend "Cydonia, Mars," may have been inserted at the last minute by the filmmakers under NASA's noses (Bell told Hoagland "there's no way in Hell NASA would sanction a movie about Cydonia, although Hoagland tends to think that this film represents NASA's public answer to the "sticky" matter of Cydonia).

Hoagland was also previously under the impression that the original cut of the film ran 165 minutes, and claimed on Thursday night's show (March 16th) that he has been getting E-mails confirming this length. But in an interview with Gary Sinise at Eon Magazine, Sinise defended criticisms that characters in Mission To Mars were not as fleshed-out as they perhaps could have been by saying, "You never know what gets cut from a film. There was stuff for me and Connie, and for whatever reasons, they made the choice to cut some of that and get the story moving. SPOILER Connie did have some moments after the death of her husband, (end of spoiler) where she acted appropriately, the way you would think she would react, and Jim McConnell had some moments where he riled things up a bit, but what can you say?" (De Palma did leave a love scene out of Mission: Impossible because it "got in the way of the action.") In any case, they all seem very interested in talking to De Palma about the film.

It was also unanimously recognized on the show that De Palma surely threw Hoagland a bone by making the take-off time to Earth be at 19:50 ("with or without us!") The number 19.5 plays a very significant role in Hoagland's book in regards to "The Message of Cydonia." It is the number that keeps popping up when measuring the geometric and geodetic properties of what Hoagland calls an "inscribed tetrahedral geometry," leading him to consider the possibility of a "new physics," and speculating that Cydonia was built deliberately to make us ask such questions. This line of physics is what eventually lead Hoagland to seek out De Palma's brother, Dr. Bruce De Palma (see story below), who had developed a device he called the N-machine.

The N-machine's origins began when De Palma performed a simple experiment: he rotated ball bearings at a high rate of speed and launched them into the air, carefully taking multiple time-lapse photographs. To his surprise, he discovered that they rose farther and fell faster than ball bearings that were not spinning when launched. He thought they must be interacting with a new kind of energy, now known as space energy. De Palma then turned to the writings and experiments of Michael Faraday, the famous British pioneer of electricity and magnetism who invented what he called a homopolar generator, a device that could pull electric current from a spinning copper disk when the disk is rotated along with the magnets. Faraday never fully developed his invention, but De Palma reworked it using modern materials, such as super-powerful magnets, to extract the electricity. De Palma named his device the N-machine, meaning "to the nth degree," because he saw the machine's potential as being almost unlimited, speculating that a magnet taps energy from another dimension. The magnets, De Palma believed, cause a distortion of the aether, allowing space energy to flow into the machine. The science establishment, set dogmatically in its learned physics, would not bend to De Palma's findings and beliefs. De Palma once quipped that he could not develop his "free energy" device in the United States "because I would get my head blown off."

Hoagland and his team felt that if De Palma's N-machine is indeed capable of successfully producing more energy than required for its input, that it must be operating according to the Cydonia "hyperdimensional physics" that Hoagland read as part of "The Message of Cydonia."

Brian De Palma may have been a hired gun on Disney's new sci-fi adventure Mission To Mars, but a less-than-6-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon look at De Palma's links to the film's subject matter suggests a potentially very deep, personal connection. It seems that De Palma's older brother, Dr. Bruce De Palma, who passed away in 1997, had worked with Richard Hoagland, the author of The Monuments Of Mars who has been involved in a struggle with NASA over the images taken of Cydonia for over two decades.

NASA, of course, gave its full cooperation to Disney during the making of the film. In a recent post on Hoagland's official web site, The Enterprise Mission, it is sensationally suggested that Disney suddenly turned its back on NASA with a TV trailer (one of several different ones running in the week prior to the film's release) that posits a government coverup about the real secrets of Mars: "For 25 years," the voiceover states at the start of the trailer, "the government has concealed evidence of a life-like formation on Mars..." As the images move toward a close-up of the Face on Mars, the voiceover continues, "On March 10, the conspiracy will be exposed." This does raise a rather interesting question: was this simply a clever marketing ploy, or did the filmmakers pull a fast one on NASA? Or, since NASA did apparently approve the script, perhaps the agency has softened its stance on The Face, which is, via De Palma's own suggestion to production designer Ed Verreaux, more goddess than the famed photos would seem to reveal. (Hoagland will offer his views on the film Tuesday night on Art Bell's Coast To Coast radio show.)

As Richard Corliss was quick to point out in his Time magazine review, De Palma seems to have based his film on Hoagland's book, which adds a lot of weight to the idea that the film is, at its heart, a tribute to his departed brother. De Palma has made no secret in the past of his childhood quest to overcome Bruce's dominance of their mother's attention. As he told Georgia A. Brown in 1983, "My mother was absorbed with my oldest brother. He was her genius...Even today, I could get my picture on the cover of Time and I don't think my mother would notice." Brown described De Palma's childhood as "an outsider trying vainly to discover his part or make his entrance," which surely lead to his obsession with voyeurism. When asked by Brown about his childhood, De Palma told her to watch Home Movies. "It's all there," he said. That 1979 film depicts an older brother who is the center of attention within the family, with Keith Gordon as the De Palma surrogate who eventually steals the girl, played by De Palma's then-wife Nancy Allen, from his brother.

Within these contexts then, it is hard not to see Mission To Mars as De Palma's attempt to make peace with his now departed brother, an unorthodox scientist who lived his last days in New Zealand. It is difficult not to see Woody, who "aims to overshoot" in this tragic cosmic comedy of impotence, as a surrogate for Bruce De Palma. --SPOILERS-- When Jim McConnell says at the end that he wishes Woody was there, he is told that Woody is there with them. The line that everyone seems to think is so corny at the end of the film now takes on a breezy poignancy: "Have a great ride, Jim."

Brian De Palma explained to USA Today that Mission To Mars features a life force that acts as a "tour guide to an interplanetary show." De Palma says, "Why not have some kind of poetic, beautiful form that guides them on their trip?" This is in keeping with the filmmakers' vision of the story as a spiritual quest, rather than a violent colonial rampage. De Palma also explains the film's realistic approach to space travel: "There's nothing in the movie that's unfeasible. All the space vehicles are either on the drawing board or ones whose designs have been approved by NASA, so there's not much science fantasy to this." The article goes on to point out that the filmmakers' quest for realism was so high that they had planned to use actual sounds from the planet Mars, but of course the Mars Polar Lander expedition was sadly lost. This would have given the film an almost travelogue documentary effect. In any case, De Palma expressed hope that his new film would make people curious about Mars, so that the exploration efforts may receive more funding. "I remember very clearly when we took the first steps on the moon," says De Palma. " No one seems to care about exploration anymore, and it's such a tragedy. If we can just bring it back into the consciousness, it makes us feel so good about ourselves."

Mission To Mars producer Tom Jacobson tells Starlog magazine that he proposed the film to Brian De Palma after hearing that the director was interested in such a story. "Brian read it overnight and called to say he wanted to direct it," Jacobson says. "He said, 'I'll commit to it right now.'" Jacobson explains that De Palma, who was taken with the "uncertain" twists that take place in the story, is interested in space in general, and especially Mars, citing his scientific background. "He started as a physics major way back when in college and moved over to film, had an interest in the space program as a fan," Jacobson continues, "and also, because he had never done anything like this, it was another perk for him, a challenge. He brought a real strong visual sense to the story." Jacobson explains that De Palma introduced unique ways of filming environments that aren't exactly found on our own planet, and that he added a certain "magic" to the film. "Brian also came up with the idea of using the space station. His challenge to himself, and then to us, was to show things that haven't been seen before. He said, 'We've seen a lot of space movies, so there are certain images that are necessarily going to be part of this medium, but wherever possible I want to try and push it.'"
The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) will pass directly over Cydonia on March 22nd, according to the calculations of Peter Nerbun, orbit analyst for an independent scientific research group called the Society for Planetary SETI Research (SPSR). The SPSR had previously announced that Nerbun's calculations of the MGS predicted the spacecraft would be flying directly over the "Face" that rests in Cydonia, but as the time comes nearer, Nerbun now claims that the MGS will in fact be flying straight over the Tholus, a rounded feature about 30KM south and west of the "Face" that was discovered by Richard C. Hoagland while seeking additional objects from which to derive spatial and angular relationships in his study of Cydonia. The group is urging people to fax NASA at 202-358-2810 to encourage them to take photos of the Tholus. Hoagland made a similar appeal on Art Bell's radio show last week.

Using the June 27, 1999 overflight of Cydonia as a calibration point, Nerbun wrote a program based on a ground track repeat cycle to determine that March 22nd would be the next time the MGS would fly over the Cydonian region. The ground track of a spacecraft is the path that a spacecraft moves over a planet's surface. You can view NASA's display of the current ground track for MGS (updated every two minutes) by clicking here.

Hoagland's studies of the images from Cydonia found that the Tholus (along with other nearby features with similar morphologies that were imaged as part of NASA's 1975-76 Viking Mission) displayed no evidence of vulcanism, was not impact-related, and is difficult to explain as a remnant of a larger non-distinct landform because of its symmetrical shape and low gradients. In other words, Hoagland concluded, the Tholus is part of an artificial complex that, along with the Face and other formations, makes up Cydonia.

Dr. Mark Carlotto of the SPSR, who will participate in a web chat with Nerbun on Tuesday, March 21st at 9pm EST, has studied the Face and its surrounding artifacts extensively. He is the author of The Martian Enigmas, and the co-author of The Case For The Face. Using a computer program that turns flat imaging data into a three dimensional representation, Carlotto has created a 3-D rotation of the Tholus, which can be viewed at his website. Carlotto's studies of the Tholus has found fine scale details that "should not be there if it is a natural object." His 3-D analysis of the mound "indicates that one set of grooves leads to this pit (an opening?) which is located about halfway up the side of the object."

Hoagland has long criticized NASA for letting good Cydonia imaging opportunities pass it by. NASA subcontractors Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Malin Space Systems have acknowledged only one series of Cydonia flyovers since the MGS began imaging Mars in the Fall of 1997, despite several computed imaging opportunities, according to SPSR. Only four new images from the MGS have been released of the Cydonia area, including one fuzzy image of the Face. An unannounced flyover in July of 1999 produced an image of a crater in the Cydonia region discovered by SPSR geologist Harry Moore displaying several indicators that a significant amount of frozen water rests at its floor.

As Carlotto and Hoagland are quick to emphasize, JPL/NASA's website has long promised that: "The spacecraft (MGS) will fly directly over the Cydonia region, where enigmatic features were observed in the Viking Mission, a few times during its mapping mission. The Mars Global Surveyor project will announce these imaging opportunities in advance and will post the resultant images on the internet." Carlotto also points out that this promise includes the Cydonia area and its unusual features, not just the Face.