Film Reviews:

Escape From Mars

(Neill Fearnley, US, 1999)

[Escape from Mars]A US TV movie cashing in, and why not, on the recent run on SF Mars movies. Of course, this is much smaller in scale and scope and so the budget doesn't show its limitations too much - the emphasis is on talking heads and not SF. It's 2015 and the Consortium-backed space shuttle Sagan (no doubt a nod to scientist Carl Sagan) is about to take off for the first manned mission to Mars. Like previous (real world) NASA adventures into space, a technical glitch doesn't stop the launch as the most important thing is to get a human on the surface of Mars. Pre-launch flashbacks of each of the crew members (including, of course, the token strong woman and humorless Russian) provide the perfunctory character delineation, and then we're off.

The pacing makes it clear that much of the running time will be spent on the crew members in flight exchanging techno babble and attempted witticisms. There are some nice political touches such as when it's revealed that the Consortium is maintaining the mission's website with daily updates (including fake, computer-generated crew diaries on their behalf) and the continuing clear message from (the bargain basement set of) mission control that, despite repeated technical hitches, the priority is to reach Mars. Getting the crew back safely is secondary.

The claustrophobic format switches between shuttle crew member exchanges, shuttle/mission control exchanges and IMV (read CNN clone) footage that merely disseminates the propaganda fed it by the Consortium. Eventually, just as viewer patience is likely to collapse, they arrive on Mars. They capture their landmark moment for the bosses back home and then, oh my God!, they are trapped in a Martian storm and the shuttle is damaged and unless they can pull off a miracle (c'mon you guys!) they'll be soaking up the Sun's rays from the surface of the red planet in future. Despite the film's title, it's only the last fifteen minutes that deal with this aspect of the story. Given the inevitable limitations it was made under Escape from Mars isn't so bad, and at least they didn't waste a small fortune making it like others I could mention (and shall, Red Planet). 5/10

Rob Dyer (July 2003)

See also:

Lost in Space
Mission To Mars
Red Planet

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