A "VISUAL RHAPSODY," SAID CHARLES TAYLOR AT SALON
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Inspired in part by a defunct ride at Disney’s theme parks, Brian De Palma imagined what humankind’s first manned journey to the red planet might play out. It is because the answer turns out to be “direly” that the film focuses the majority of its run time on the second such trip, a last-ditch rescue to extract the cosmonaut left behind by an accident the first time around. Let Elon Musk consider this a warning, as he and his top people at SpaceX vow to launch some undoubtedly rich eccentric into the deepest reaches of space by 2024: real people’s lives will be on the line, and even in the best-case scenario, we may still have to reckon with our genetic origins as bastardized Martian-DNA descendants. Which would, at the very least, level the market value of 23andMe.
The year 2000 was a wondrous time. The future had arrived! After surviving the Y2K threat anything seemed possible. Including traveling to Mars.
That was the plot of the Brian De Palma-directed action film “Mission to Mars,” which depicted an ill-fated trip to the red planet in the year 2020. Hey, that’s now!
Set mostly in space, it didn’t offer much of a vision of what Earth would look like 20 years in the future, except for an opening scene at a July 4th barbecue for a team of astronauts potrayed by Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle and Connie Nielsen and Jerry O’Connell. All box office draws in the days before streaming.
Unfortunately, everything at the party looks very … normal. There’s no future tech to be seen and you probably could’ve recreated most of the wardrobe on a shopping trip to Old Navy and Ann Taylor. That said, no SciFi film worth it’s CGI would be complete without a car of the future, and MTM has one of those. Sort of.
Sinise’s character, mission co-commander Jim McConnell, arrives at the party in a bizarre-looking silver two-seat convertible SUV called the VX-02, with the 2 in subscript signifying the molecular formula for oxygen.
The thing is, it wasn’t really all that futuristic. It was a concept for a drop-top version of the Isuzu VehiCross that had gone on sale the prior year. The two-door 4x4 was a wildly styled take on the automaker’s mainstream Trooper and engineered with a conventional body on frame construction and V6 engine, the sound of which the effects folks replaced with electric motor noises on screen. (In the script posted on IMSDB, it’s described as a Jeep with a capital J. Ouch.)
Isuzu had introduced the VX-02 at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show a few weeks before the film’s premiere, pitching it as the world’s first Off-Roadster, but the market didn’t take a swing. Given the limited interest in the regular VehiCross – with just over 4,100 sold from 1999 to 2001 – it never made it into production and Isuzu left the U.S. altogether by 2009.
Nevertheless, the VehiCross has become a cult classic that has spawned the #VehiCrossTag on Twitter to accompany photos of sightings of the increasingly rare machine, and the VX-02 did predict the future in one small way.
At the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, Nissan unveiled the similarly oddball Murano CrossCabriolet convertible crossover, which went on sale the following year but was a commercial flop that was discontinued in 2014.
There was one more car at the party in “Mission to Mars” that is the antithesis of the VX-02. It’s a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette driven by Robbins' character Woody Blake that crewmate Luke Graham, played by Cheadle, suggests he should donate to a museum.
“Internal combustion, boys, accept no substitutes.”
Well, one person has: Elon Musk. And he's not only planning to go to Mars someday, but says he'll be bringing his electric Cybertruck along for the ride, which was inspired by 1982's "Blade Runner."
Who knows, maybe the VX-02 will finally go into production in 2038.
While most of cinema's predictions for 2020 rely on extremely advanced technology or outlandish creatures, one assumption about the future seems tantalizingly in reach with modern technology: a journey to Mars.
Mission to Mars is an almost forgotten 2000 sci-fi film that's loosely based on the defunct Disney attraction of the same name. In the Brian de Palma feature, scientists travel to Mars, only for something to go wrong on their first manned mission, which requires a second team to investigate what happened. Along the way, the scientists make first contact with alien life and learn where the aliens went after Mars became inhospitable.
The film didn't impress audiences, nor did it make much money at the box office. Still, of all the films that take place in 2020, it's the closest to reality. The human race has the technology to reach Mars within the next few years, and we may very well actually make our way to the rusty fourth planet from the sun. We have far more of a chance making it there than blowing up continents, after all. Mission to Mars might've been nominated for Razzies in its day, but it wins in regards to scientific possibility.
Speaking of Domino, I happened upon a review of the Mission To Mars from 2006 (six years after the film's release), in which Slant's Eric Henderson argues for an auteurist approach to reading the film. Henderson's review of what he suggests is the start of "De Palma’s already richly rewarding 'old man cinema' period" seems to anticipate the back-and-forth views of Domino as "a De Palma film" these past few months:
Is Mission to Mars an auteurist litmus test for the Y2K generation in the same sense that Baby Face Nelson or The Girl Can’t Help It were in the theory’s salad days? Or is Mission To Mars the ultimate in hackery? Is De Palma etched into every CGI-loaded frame? Or can’t his personality overcome a budgetary tidal wave in the shape and magnitude of $80 million? While it’s tempting to shrug such questions off with a “go fiddle with your Hatari and jerk your Steel Helmet somewhere else, there’s formalism to be seduced here” (yes, even in this context of a critical appraisal of a singular talent), the impulse would rob an already gravelly underrated movie of its context. It would suck the air out of Mission to Mars like space robs Tim Robbins of his every last droplet of essential moisture. Leave a movie like Mission to Mars to fester among the slaves to the genre, and you’ll wind up with a bloated and laughably irrelevant Web page of technical gaffes over on IMDb. So while an auteurist reading of Mission to Mars might invite self-involved chatter over whether the movie or the viewer is supplying the meaning, at least you won’t find yourself sharing an oxygen mask with a caste of Trekkie outcasts. And Trekkies can’t dance in outer space.
Buena Vista undoubtedly conceived of a very different film than the Mission to Mars it released in theaters. Its once and future pie-eyed protagonist is played by Gary Sinise, revealing executives’ intentions; this was meant to be a space movie aimed at those for whom Apollo 13, in which Sinise brooded and kicked clods of dirt while everyone else got to board the Good Ship Patriotism, was just a little bit too dark. Why they hired De Palma is beyond me, but they must’ve felt intensely pleased with themselves when the movie earned a kid-friendly PG rating. But Mission to Mars isn’t only a warm, up-with-people sci-fi actioneer in an Event Horizon era. It’s also a fearless twist on the sadly still controversial theory of evolution, a completely anti-James Cameronian epic with a blockbuster budget and a completely becalmed man at the helm, and maybe the first chapter in De Palma’s already richly rewarding “old man cinema” period. And did I mention that De Palma gets the chance to redux Fiona Lewis’s gothic pirouette of death from The Fury, only this time the limbs actually fly off?
Sure, De Palma may have been able to direct movies with an AARP card in his back pocket since 1992’s Raising Cain, but without Mission to Mars and Sinise’s haunted memories of Kim Delaney, De Palma could’ve never found it within himself to make Femme Fatale, his answer to that immortal one-two “old man cinema” punch of 1964: Hitchcock’s Marnie and Dreyer’s Gertrud. While the obvious connection between these three films won’t necessarily win over feminists for whom auteurism is another way of saying “no girls allowed,” all three mark a decisive point of psychological capitulation on the part of otherwise resolute personalities.
Mission to Mars’ redemptive coda opened the door for the subsequent film’s continuing figurative and literal sanguinity. There are few sights more disturbingly beautiful in the De Palma canon than Jerry O’Connell’s miniature globes of blood dancing in the air as they drift toward a hole in the Mars-bound shuttle’s structure. At once referencing bodily danger and assisting the crew and allowing them to repair a potentially greater danger, the fluidity of the film—from its blood to its serpentine cinematography—testifies to its elegance. Not to say there’s not a little hardening in De Palma’s heart even at this stage. It’s more a reflection of our culture’s reactionary values than of De Palma’s radicalism that this film airs on the Disney-owned ABC television network without its poetically direct 3D diorama of Earth’s evolution, suggesting the redolence of a corporation in hysterical self-censorship mode. But even De Palma turns the majority of the film’s saintly NASA heroes away at film’s end, leaving them to turn around and return to a planet of genetic inferiority. A planet where gravity makes it awfully difficult to dance through air.
circa1964 Here we are moving the finished Mission To Mars spaceship - the Mars 1 - to stage for shooting. It was 21' or 6.4 meters from end to end. This was made at Dream Quest Images in Simi California in 2000.
#missiontomars #dreamquestimages #briandepalma #garysinise #timrobbins #doncheadle #connienielsen #practicaleffects #vfx #miniature #miniatures #handmade #modelcraft #scalemodel #scratchbuild #modelmaker #modelmaking #custombuild #moldmaker #setlife #behindthescenes #greenscreen #motioncontrol #2000 #spaceship #mars #rocket #blastoff #orbit #crew
curly.phil Wow! That’s crazy 😮😮 What’s the biggest ship you’ve worked on?
circa1964 @curly.phil I think this one. The Nightingale from Supernova was 19 1/2'. The alien craft that rises at the end of The Abyss was 20' across, maybe more. Can't remember but I think 20'. So, this one. Now, cities or landscapes is a whole other thing.
curly.phil @circa1964 😂😂 Go on then. Biggest city and landscape?
circa1964 @curly.phil I will get back to you on that. Memory overload.😁😂
mcsbro Is this the same model that’s currently in the Mission Space line queue at Epcot?
circa1964 @mcsbro I think it is! I just did a search online and found some pics. I would be surprised if it isn't. Thanks for the info.
And then in his final paragraph, Chang states: "There’s nothing wrong with trying to give science fiction an accessible, emotional dimension: Ridley Scott’s The Martian managed it beautifully and so, for that matter, did Brian De Palma’s underrated Mission to Mars. But the clumsy, hurtling rhythms of The Space Between Us, much like its credulity-straining visual effects, betray a movie utterly disengaged from its own premise. Far from amplifying the human factor, it merely cheapens and diminishes everything it touches, not least the audience’s capacity for wonderment and surprise."
Passengers’ director is Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), working from a script by Jon Spaihts, and he vests much of the movie with a buzzing neon glow. (The space-walk scenes, contrasting glo-stick luminescence with inky blackness, are particularly beautiful.) But the movie runs aground in the last third: It’s as if Tyldum and Spaihts know they can’t get too wiggy, so they take a hard right and try to land their ship in more conventional territory.
Along the way they make what appears to be a failed attempt to channel the intense doomed romanticism of Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars (specifically, the sorrowful and glorious scene in which astronaut Connie Nielsen fails to save her fellow astronaut husband, Tim Robbins). By that point, Tyldum has crashed his ship, figuratively speaking—inside this failed picture there’s a sicker, darker, more truthful one crying to get out. But for a while, Passengers is really going for something. The movie it might have been is lost in space, alone, never to be seen by mere mortals. All we can see from Earth are its few brightly burning scraps, but at least it’s something.
Zacharek on The Martian and Mission To Mars
"De Palma, himself a high school science fair winner, approached space as a mystery, a problem beautiful in its vast unsolvability. Scott, all about solutions, gives us the most seemingly authentic Mars money can buy. That doesn't make it the best."