Mission to Mars

MissionToMarsMystery on Mars would be a more appropriate title for this formidable sci-fi film starring Gary Sinise as astronaut commander Jim McConnell.  Tim Robbins (Woody Blake), Don Cheadle (Luke Graham), Connie Nielsen (Terri Fisher), and Jerry O’Connell (Phil Ohlmyer) co-star as various astronauts and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Peacemaker, Shine) plays an expert on a space station.

Director Brian De Palma (Untouchables, Mission Impossible) opens the film with a long tracking shot at an outdoor party then establishes the plot with several shots with very simple orientations and character placements.  De Palma effectively moves the camera through the windows in the various spacecraft to outer space several times throughout the film.  One scene where Woody tells Terri that she has to do everything he says primes the audience for the important role the astronauts’ ranks have in the story and some foreshadowing to the upcoming drama.  The dialogue involves the audience in the plot as the characters simply explain complex scientific and technical tasks while providing some inspirational lines like “We stand at a new world and reach beyond for the next one.”

The plot begins when astronauts experience a mysterious phenomenon on the planet Mars, then weaves in other astronaut missions. When Luke’s decision making comes into question he shows his fellow astronauts the full truth instead of describing the unique situation he encounters.  Luke and Jim encounter these great revelations with intelligent, logical, and considerate actions.  The “grunt” work behind the advances made by the crew provides many of the answers to the questions they seek.

Extraordinary set design and music score by Ennio Morricone, veteran composer and frequent collaborator on director Sergio Leone’s films, accentuates the emotional dialogue in the awesome, often silent, setting of space.  The sound achieved in the film plays a key role in unlocking the mystery on Mars. The plot concludes with surprising discoveries in awe-inspiring scenes where key messages are conveyed without much dialogue.

Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey can not be avoided, but Mission to Mars still presents original ideas and concepts at a deliberately slow pace which stimulates an audience to have an enjoyable, thought-provoking experience.  The nice montage at the end helps the audience feel closure (everything happens for a reason) as filmmakers tie in each element very well.  It would’ve been better to not have any dialogue at the film’s climatic interior scene filled with great special effects, but the characters had to makes certain statements so the audience understood the sequence of events.  Silence speaks a thousand emotions, not words, in this PG film that comes recommended (*** out of four stars) to general audiences.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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