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AV Club Review
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Tuesday, June 9, 2020
JUNE 9, 2020
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mjunecompletelamod.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 12:05 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, June 9, 2020 1:52 AM CDT
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Monday, June 8, 2020
DREW TAYLOR ON 'M2M' DISNEY ATTRACTION & FILM
"HOW DISNEY'S MISSION TO MARS WENT FROM ATTRACTION TO BRIAN DE PALMA MOVIE BACK TO ATTRACTION"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mshow.jpg

Yesterday at Collider, Drew Taylor posted an article about Disney's "Mission To Mars" attraction. "45 years ago today Mission to Mars opened at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World," Taylor begins. "The attraction, which simulated the experience of blasting guests to the red planet, would [have] an oddly lasting effect on the company, inspiring a poorly received film that in turn would serve as the basis [of] an equally mediocre attraction. And on and on it goes, like the rotation of some huge planet. For some reason (and for many years), its gravitational pull was too great."

Here's a further excerpt from Taylor's article:

In June, 1975, Mission to Mars was first launched. It featured many of the same animatronics and even some of the same footage in the pre-show and ride film, but new elements were made to the show itself, both in terms of effects (inflatable seats would be inflated or deflated, to simulate space travel) and story points (hello, hyperspace travel). In 1975 Mission to Mars was installed in Disneyland too. But by the early 1990s, it was starting to show its age. It lacked the visceral thrills and excitement that modern audiences demanded and much of the science and technology was outdated and creaky. It closed in 1992 in Disneyland and 1993 in Walt Disney World. The mission had come to an end.

Or had it?

Since the late 2000s, Disney had been noodling with the idea of turning some of its beloved theme park attractions into equally beloved big screen events. The test pilot was Tower of Terror, a 1997 horror comedy starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst that aired on Wonderful World of Disney and, more crucially, acted as an 89-minute commercial for The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror, an innovative attraction that opened at what was then known as Disney-MGM Studios a few years earlier. (Part of the movie was actually filmed at the attraction in Florida. At the time MGM-Studios took pride in the fact that it was a fully operational production studio, even though hardly anything was ever shot there.) The movie was enough of a hit that several other projects inched through development, among them were big screen adaptations of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, along with Dinosaur, an animated film that was using state-of-the-art technology and was being developed alongside an attraction set to open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Ah, synergy.

But the film that would ultimately make it out of the gate first was Mission to Mars. Part of this had to do with an arms race Disney was having with Warner Bros, who was developing their own Mars-themed project called Red Planet. (A couple of years earlier Disney had found itself in a similar situation as its own Armageddon squared off against Paramount and DreamWorks’ Deep Impact.) And part of it had to do with the fact that the studio really didn’t publicize that it was based on the theme park attraction, which at the time had been shuttered for the better part of a decade. The movies-based-on-theme-park-attractions idea appealed to Disney chief Michael Eisner but it still made him nervous. It was Eisner who made the last-minute decision to add the cumbersome subtitle to Pirates of the Caribbean in an effort to distance itself from the attraction. If Mission to Mars was a success, so be it. But the connections between the theme park attraction and the movie were not going to be explicitly drawn.

And, truth be told, the movie, directed by Brian De Palma from a screenplay officially credited to Jim and John Thomas and Graham Yost, doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the original attraction. Sure, it’s about an expedition to Mars. But there aren’t any direct parallels to be drawn, save from that amazing long shot, set to Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away,” which features a rotating circular centrifuge, that explicitly recalls a similar image on one of the screens in the Mission to Mars preshow. (It’s a deep cut, I know.) Where there could have been references, there are emphatically not. You’d think that some of the characters could have had the last name “Morrow” or “Johnson,” references to the audio-animatronic figure that gave you the rundown in the ride’s pre-show. But, alas, there is none. De Palma, whose experience on the film wasn’t particularly positive (“It was relentless,” he said in the De Palma documentary), never mentioned the original attraction. It’s unclear if he even knew the film was an adaptation of a popular theme park attraction.

When Mission to Mars came out in the spring of 2000 (happy 20th!), it lost money, making $111 million internationally from a budget of over $100 million. De Palma was so broken by the project that he left the United States. “The Hollywood system we work in does nothing but destroy you,” De Palma said in the documentary. “When I finished that movie, that’s when I got on a plane and went to Paris. Mission to Mars was the last movie I made in the United States.” (Mission to Mars did get some strong notices from critics, particularly overseas. It was #4 on Cashiers du Cinema’s collective Top 10 that year, outranking The Virgin Suicides and In the Mood For Love.) But box office be damned, Mission to Mars was going to live on.

EPCOT had wanted a space pavilion since the early 1990s. It made sense. EPCOT (formerly EPCOT Center) was the science and discovery park. Space should have always been there. Initial plans called for a giant pavilion wherein several attractions would be accessible (one would have simulated a spacewalk, with guests suspended from an overhead track, peering into the outside of a space station) but budget cuts and the popularity of Horizons, a sort-of space-themed attraction about futuristic communities, occupying the same land that the new pavilion would have been placed, meant the space pavilion was off the table. But the idea was being revisited at the close of the decade; Horizons had lost its corporate sponsorship and a large sinkhole had been detected underneath its massive show building. They could finally do the really-for-real space pavilion and they had a cutting-edge idea to go along with it: spinning centrifuge that would make you feel weightless. They also had a flashy Disney movie they could piggyback on: Mission to Mars.

Disney enlisted Gary Sinise, one of the stars of Mission to Mars, to host the preshow for the new attraction, now called Mission: Space. (Sinise essentially is playing the same character but his name is never spoken.) And the big, wheel-shaped room from the “Dance the Night Away” scene is actually a part of the attraction’s extended queue, along with several model spaceships from the film (much of the visual effects work for the movie was provided by Dream Quest Images, Disney’s in-house visual effects company, that was shuttered following Mission to Mars’ release). On a narrative level, this new attraction borrowed heavily from the Mission to Mars attraction, including the conceit that you are being trained to make the journey to outer space and the patina of pseudo-scientific education. But this time the emphasis was on thrills.

So Mission to Mars, a movie inspired by a Disney theme park attraction, inspired another Disney theme park attraction. Moving in a circle, just like the astronauts in the movie. Who has the Van Halen?


Posted by Geoff at 7:57 AM CDT
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Monday, April 20, 2020
'MISSION TO MARS' LANDS DEEP FOR MANY - TWITTER
RESPONSES TO JOSH LEWIS TWEETS SHOW MUCH APPRECIATION, CHILDHOOD VIEWINGS, ETC.
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/tweetm2moptimal.jpg

Josh Lewis, co-host of the Sleazoids podcast, tweeted the other day that he was watching Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars for the first time. Posting images from the film's twister scene, of an astronaut being spun and ripped apart in the eye of the storm, Lewis tweeted that "this seems like a less than optimal way to go all things considered." In a followup tweet, Lewis wrote, "lotta replies to this are traumatized people saying their parents or school had them watch this because it was technically a disney movie lol."

Boredom Cultivator then responded, "Everyone says this movie is terrible but I watched it as a kid and there were multiple scenes that stuck deeply in my memory. I actually haven't re-watched it since but if it accomplished that I'm assuming it did something right." Lewis then added, "I liked it a lot!"

More responses followed:

Mark Asch: "a beautiful masterpiece, god-tier filmmaking, one of the greatest movies ever made"

DJSCheddar: "there are movies that I saw as a kid long before I ever knew anything about anything, but that despite not being big business or whatever, really stuck with me. this is one of them, to this day. really special"

quarantined fka ☕️ , fka ☕️: "I distinctly remember watching this with a friends family and all of them HATING it whereas I was p onboard"

the bane (the ape 🦧 parody): "dunno if the whole thing works but it goes hard"

Grafton Tanner: "Loved it when it came out. Haven't seen it since but looks like I need to"

Michael Snydel: "Remember being traumatized by this exact scene in the theater."

Will Mavity: "Man and he someone got that thing under the wire with a PG when you were having stuff stamped with a PG13 for 'thematic elements'"

Jake: "Best De Palma movie based on a theme park ride. At least until Disney drops their BLOW OUT attraction next to the Hall of Presidents."

Alex: "Haha oh man, I remember watching this as a little kid and the shot of Woody getting his face insta-frozen still sticks in my mind."

Jesse Hawken: "A handful of good scenes! Also: Guyliner Gary Sinese"

tsai ming-lad: "this goes so hard. great movie"

The Hipster Llama: "Ah I love this movie!"

Logan: "my favourite DePalma!"

Tyler Harford: "movie’s kinda underrated. has some of De Palma’s brilliant camerawork and i enjoyed its campiness and unintentional comedy."

OnryFans: "My high school had a series (8 - 12, can’t remember exactly) of bomb threats fall of my junior year. They’d check the auditorium first then stuff us all in there until it was over. We watched this once."

Chloe: excited to see how u feel about this one. moved me a lot."

Jesusfreak!: "Don Cheedle doing peek Cheedle before it was a thing."

billy: "Saw this in theaters at like age 8 and that scene ruined me"

The Scenic Route: "Still haven't forgiven this movie for mixing up chromosomes and base pairs."

Smarter than Every Economist: "Hahah this traumatized me as an 11yo"

Paresh Maharaj: "I remember seeing this movie in theaters but this is the only thing I remember (except maybe the ending)."

Collector of Unwatched Blurays: "Just watched this scene, and yeah, how did this get past not just the classification board, but also DISNEY?!"

C reel: "Man I saw this in the theaters when I was 10 this scene fucked me up"


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 8:26 AM CDT
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Thursday, April 9, 2020
REVISITING 'MISSION TO MARS' VISION IN THE NEW 2020
SARA STEWART AT NY POST FINDS 'A WHISPER OF QUARANTINE FAMILIARITY'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/greenhouse1.jpg

Remember when this year began and how those first ten days of January saw a plethora of articles looking at films set in 2020, and what those films envisioned for us this year? As it turns out, a lot can change in three months!

"Lots of us have been bingeing pandemic movies, understandably," Sara Stewart states at the start of a New York Post article today. "It’s perversely comforting to see that things could be worse. But what else, I wondered, did film envision for us in 2020, specifically? I looked at five sci-fi movies set this year (and available for rent on Amazon, among other platforms) to see if things were better or worse than the real deal."

Stewart begins with Doug Liman's Edge Of Tomorrow, in which "tentacled aliens have taken over huge swaths of the globe and humanity seems to be permanently at war with them. (So: worse?)"

Then she moves on to Mission To Mars:

Next up: “Mission to Mars,” from 2000. Director Brian De Palma was clearly overly optimistic about our space exploration capabilities. Or was he? Three characters have died 20 minutes in, and there’s a giant face on the surface of the red planet. Yikes. Here’s a whisper of quarantine familiarity as a rescue mission finds that a scraggly Don Cheadle’s been tending a greenhouse alone on Mars for a year. Some of us may find a whisper of relatability here. This is a very cheesy movie, but it’s got a great scene of Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen dancing in zero gravity. Also, we meet a Martian relative. On balance: better.

The other three movies Stewart looks at are Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim ("depressing to see government officials on what appears to be a Zoom call in the year 2025. I’d have hoped we would have improved the format by then"), Reign Of Fire ("I think it’s fair to say fire-breathing reptiles annihilating our cities while our fate hangs in the balance of a shaved-headed, crazy-eyed Matthew McConaughey is worse than our current predicament"), and John Krasinski's A Quiet Place ("This is clearly worse than having to cover your lower face in public — although I bet 'a quiet place' is what every working-from-home parent is dreaming about right now").

Posted by Geoff at 11:40 PM CDT
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Wednesday, March 11, 2020
VFX SITE LOOKS BACK AT M2M EVOLUTION SEQUENCE
AND PETER SOBCZYNSKI REVISITS THE FILM 20 YEARS LATER FOR THE SPOOL
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/vfxjohnknoll.jpg

Above is a picture of Industrial Light & Magic's John Knoll, who was a VFX supervisor on Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars. The picture is part of an article by befores & afters' Ian Failes, which takes a look back at ILM's evolution sequence for the film.

"One sequence that always remained in my memory was the lengthy holographic evolution shot," states Failes. "Here, microscopic paramecia evolve – with no cuts – into other creatures including fish, lizards, crocodiles, dinosaurs, mammoths and buffalo, with hunting humans featured at the end. ILM handled this moment, which occurs while several astronauts are being versed on the origins of the universe. I asked then CG supervisor Christophe Hery, now a research scientist at Facebook Reality Labs, who supervised the work, how it was pulled off with Cari and some unique approaches to morphing."
Christophe Hery: We ultimately delivered an illustrative look, but in making it we approached it from a more photoreal perspective, going as far as putting detailed displacement on the creatures and the terrain.

The difficulties (and innovations) stem, besides the length, from the fact that we had to morph animals that were shaped quite differently, from early fishes to bisons, in the context of a herd (or school).

We approached these transformations by imposing a common topology on all creatures. This was an interesting exercise for the modelers and the riggers at the time, and they did a great job at that.

A tool was written on top of Cari [aka Caricature, a tool developed by ILM’s Cary Phillips], if I remember correctly, that would weigh the morphs in various regions of the bodies (so we could have, say, legs from crocodiles and necks from diplodocus appearing at different rates). All of this could be tailored and key-framed.

We had very fine control there, per limb, but we settled, again for illustration purposes, into a more unified morph speed. The camera is panning along from above, so it became hard to read the subtleties and we wanted the message to be obvious.

The morph weights were also automatically exported from this Cari extension into the shaders, so we would get a blend of the corresponding appearances automatically.

Surprisingly, the initial push into the water was the most difficult part to render. With all these bubbles motion blurred and very close-by, we were constantly faced with camera near clipping plane issues.

The shot was truly delivered/rendered as one continuous full CG shot (in Renderman). Only the actual footage of the astronauts and the alien hand were composited in (the alien being a separate CG render pass, obviously).


PETER SOBCZYNSKI ON 'MISSION TO MARS' 20 YEARS LATER

Meanwhile, at The Spool, Peter Sobczynski looks back at Mission To Mars, as well:

Although primarily known for dark suspense thrillers, Brian De Palma’s filmography is studded with a number of seemingly offbeat projects that one might not normally associate with the director of Carrie and Dressed to Kill. Even among his most ardent fans, though, a project like his 2000 effort, Mission to Mars, continues to serve as a bit of a bafflement. If you had to select the least suitable project imaginable for one of Hollywood’s most iconoclastic and cynical filmmakers, you could hardly do better than propose he make an expensive, optimistic PG sci-fi epic for Disney that was loosely inspired by one of their theme park attractions.

The results were perhaps not very surprising. Aside from France, where it screened as part of that year’s Cannes Film Festival and was ranked #4 on Cahiers du cinema’s list of the best films of the year, it was a financial and critical failure. It’s rarely discussed today even amongst De Palma scholars. (De Palma himself only briefly touches on it in the documentary De Palma.) And yet, to watch it again 20 years after its initial release is an interesting experience.

It clearly pales in comparison to such works as Blow Out, Phantom of the Paradise, and Femme Fatale and it’s still wildly uneven in many ways. At the same time, to watch De Palma attempt to embrace new things in both genre and mindset is fascinating. It even contains one of the most absolutely spellbinding set pieces in a career that is not exactly wanting in that regard and as such, the end result makes sense in the grand scheme of his career.


After some discussion of the plot and background of the production, Sobczynski continues:
And yet, as clumsy as it can get at times, Mission to Mars does make for an intriguing addition to the De Palma canon. The film is not without its bleak and grisly moments—one scene features an exploding body that evokes the infamous finale of The Fury, albeit in a resoundingly PG-rated manner. That said, the storyline is ultimately hopeful and while it does lead to some odd moments (including what must be the least cynical deployment of the American flag in De Palma’s oeuvre), it’s surprisingly successful in evoking that kind of spirit without coming across as too forced.

Better yet, the film is a visual marvel as De Palma, along with longtime collaborators such as cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and editor Paul Hirsch, creates any number of stunning images in which the constantly roving camera meshes with the feeling of weightlessness.

The highpoint of the film—indeed, the sequence that even its detractors admit is effective—is the stunning mid-film section in which a micrometeorite shower kicks off a series of ever-expanding disasters that culminates in the demise of one of the nominal stars at just barely past the halfway point. This sequence, which runs about 20 minutes or so, is De Palma at his best. It’s suspenseful, exciting, darkly funny, and constructed with jigsaw precision, and when it comes to its conclusion, it leaves viewers feeling a combination of shock and utter exhilaration at what they have just witnessed.

Seen today, Mission to Mars is just as much of an oddity as it was when it first came out and while it will almost certainly never be regarded as one of the great De Palma films by any stretch of the imagination, it does not deserve its reputation as a wholesale disaster that it gained virtually from the day it came out. (The film remains De Palma’s last Hollywood studio production as he would relocate to Europe after it came out to make films like Femme Fatale, The Black Dahlia, and Passion.)

At its lowest points, it is no worse than any number of anonymous space operas that have been produced over the years (including Red Planet, the competing Mars-themed thriller that it beat into theaters by a few months). At its highest peaks—specifically that still jaw-dropping mid-section—it serves a potent reminder of De Palma’s skills as a filmmaker. This is a film that is undeniably flawed but also undeniably ambitious and in a time when most films of this sort tend to forget to include the ambition alongside the elaborate visual effects, that does count for something in the end.


Posted by Geoff at 11:33 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 10, 2020
'MISSION TO MARS' - RELEASED ON THIS DAY IN 2000
"I know it's hard to imagine a world with men like astronauts, who have this purity about them, but that's what I experienced in the times I spent with them. And also, they have that kind of starry-eyed look, because they've seen things that we will never see. They've been out there, hanging off the shuttle somewhere, fixing something on one of the satellites, and they've been looking around the universe. They come back with this look in their eyes! There's something magical about it. And that was what I was attempting to show, with Gary Sinise's journey through the material. These guys have been somewhere and done things that no man has ever done before." - Brian De Palma, talking to Bill Fentum in 2000

https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cockpitsmall1.jpg


Posted by Geoff at 1:55 AM CDT
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Friday, March 6, 2020
'MISSION TO MARS' TURNS 20
A "VISUAL RHAPSODY," SAID CHARLES TAYLOR AT SALON
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mlargedance.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 7:56 AM CST
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Monday, January 6, 2020
GUARDIAN LOOKS AT 2020 & MISSION TO MARS, TOO
"REAL PEOPLE'S LIVES WILL BE ON THE LINE"...
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mastronautline.jpg

We might as well keep these coming all week long to start out the year--- today, The Guardian's Charles Bramesco has an article with the headline, "Apocalypse now-ish: what can we learn from films set in 2020?" The first film Bramesco discusses is Mission To Mars, and it includes the above publicity still. Here's what Bramesco writes:
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.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 7, 2020 12:00 AM CST
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Sunday, January 5, 2020
THE SUV OF 2020 IN 'MISSION TO MARS'
FOX NEWS LOOKS AT WHAT HOLLYWOOD CONSIDERED THE CAR OF THE FUTURE, 20 YEARS AGO
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2msuv.jpg

The other day, Gary Gastelu at Fox News posted an article with the headline, "This is the SUV Hollywood thought we'd be driving in the year 2020." The article includes the image above, from Mission To Mars, and begins like this:
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.

Blake’s response?

“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.



Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Monday, January 6, 2020 12:13 AM CST
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Thursday, January 2, 2020
CBR - OF FILMS SET IN 2020, 'M2M' CLOSEST TO REALITY
AND FLASHBACK REVIEW FROM 2006 - ERIC HENDERSON'S AUTEURIST READING OF M2M
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mspacewalkmars.jpg

Today at Comic Book Resources, Anthony Gramuglia asks, "What Do These Sci-Fi Films Tell Us About Life in 2020?" After looking at 2020 predictions in films such as Annihilation Earth, Terminator: Dark Fate, Real Steel, A Quiet Place, Reign of Fire, and Edge of Tomorrow, Gramuglia turns his attention to Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars:
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.


And so then... how does Domino fit in with this version of 2020?

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.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 3, 2020 7:42 AM CST
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