RogerBW's Blog

The Last Days on Mars 29 April 2014

2013, dir. Ruairi Robinson, Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas: IMDb / allmovie

Towards the end of a manned mission to Mars, things start to go wrong.

I suspect that this may be the right way to begin a film about weird stuff happening on Mars: don't rely on the audience's sensawunda to be super impressed with your shiny spaceship (like Red Planet and Mission to Mars), but start just before things begin to go amiss. A modern audience can get the hang of who people are pretty quickly.

On the other hand it means, as usual, that they're all behaving like emotional idiots. Yeah, NASA does actually have psychologists who wouldn't put people on a mission if they had so little ability to get on with others as we see here.

Still, the first thirty-five minutes are pretty good: Alien-esque lurking horror and a slow building of tension. Then it all goes to pot in the initial attack. It's a shaky-cam action sequence, which I'm already not a fan of, and the flashing yellow emergency lights make the already murky film practically unwatchable.

From that point on, it's basically a zombie survival story (of the cordyceps, baculovirus, toxoplasma gondii flavour). Run, fight, lose a character, escape, repeat. Not that I have any particular objection to a zombie survival story, but this could have been so much more fun than that. After this moment the film really has nothing more to say; not just to me, to anyone who's ever seen this sort of film before. Unfortunately it takes another hour not to say it.

Darn it. I really wanted to like this one. I had a theory that there'd been a little thinky-SF boom in the last year or so, but this was one of the planks of that theory and it turns out to be more woodworm than plank.

As with Apollo 18, I think part of the problem is how suddenly the film turns from space adventure to zombie menace. I enjoyed Ghosts of Mars, after all, in part because it never gives the impression it's going to be anything more than enjoyable trash. This held out the promise of something better, then took it away.

Acting's decent, with Olivia Williams the only stand-out (as she usually is), but the whole cast is pretty impressive; pity they're so constrained by the script. Direction is fine until things go to pot, then the camera-work goes shaky and the cuts come quickly.

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