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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/13/01

Red Planet
2000 (2001) - Warner Bros.

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Red Planet Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/C-

Specs and Features

107 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, 8 deleted scenes (15 mins worth), cast and crew bios, film themed menu screens with music, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

"You want me to shut up and let you die quietly?"

What is it about Mars that Hollywood can't seem to leave it alone? First came the awful Mission to Mars, then this and now James Cameron is talking about doing a Mars movie (which promised to be stuffy and over-realized). At least this movie is kinda fun - a throwback to classic, B-grade sci-fi, if you will. Red Planet takes place about 50 years in the future. As we hear in a bit of cliched and unnecessary voiceover from Ms. Matrix, Carrie-Anne Moss, the Earth is on the brink of destruction due to overpopulation and pollution. Our only hope for survival is to inhabit Mars, and the first steps in doing so have been taken. The C02 ice caps on Mars have been detonated, which has melted them into the atmosphere. A layer of algae has been spread over the surface and the alga is turning the C02 into 02, to create a breathable atmosphere. But something has gone wrong. For some inexplicable reason, the alga has up and disappeared in a six-month period. Not died, not dying - disappeared. But how is that possible? A team of scientists and astronauts has been rounded up and are being sent into space to find the answer.

The team leader is Commander Bowman (Moss), an ex-Navy, no bull type of chick who's more man than most the actual men of the ship. But, thanks to an obligatory shower scene, we see that she's still all woman. Next up is her co-pilot (the future Mr. Julia Roberts), Benjamin Brat, who's as hot-headed as they come and is definitely full of himself... among other things. The science crew includes Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), a world class geneticist who mistakes his Cs for Ps (pay attention to the film and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about) and Pettengil (Simon Baker), a last minute replacement to the mission (which almost automatically spells certain doom, doesn't it?). Also on board is a veteran scientist/astronaut turned philosopher, Chantilas (Terence Stamp), and the ships janitor... er, mechanical engineer, Gallagher (Val Kilmer). Oh... and let's not forget AMEE, a military robot reprogrammed to help the ground crew navigate.

After six months of travel time to the big red rock, the ship is bombarded by solar flare radiation and all but Bowman are forced to jump ship and land on Mars early. But the landing craft wasn't properly shielded and, without it's autopilot functioning properly, it crashes on the surface, stranding the crew. Worse yet, whatever it was that removed the algae from the surface also destroyed their yet-to-be-manned base, which housed six months of food, water and oxygen. With the air in their suits running out, no food and no way back to their mother ship, the crew will likely not survive the night. And if the harsh Martian environment doesn't kill them, a malfunctioning AMEE will.

Red Planet is fun because it's about people and how they deal with the problems they're thrown into. Yeah, sure... it's a little hard to suspend belief in this film at times, and there are a few too many plot holes. But come on - nobody watches 1950s-era Sci-fi films and says they suck because you can't believe them, right? They're just entertaining. Nothing more and nothing less. In a lot of ways, Red Planet is a modern day throw back to those types of films. Smart people trying to fix a problem with technology and save their own asses. The production design is cool, the threats are as real as they need to be (or you, as an audience, let them be) and there's a few moments that will have you on edge. This is hardly a great film, and I'm not saying that it is. But I was surprised to find that I liked it.

This Warner DVD presents the film with a beautiful anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are bright and smooth, with mostly solid blacks. The only times I ever saw any problems were with some of the digital effects - occasionally, they don't quite blend well enough with the filmed images. But this is in no way a problem with the transfer. This is about as good a transfer as you can get, even for being spread over only one single layer of a disc.

The sound, on the other hand, could have been punched up a bit in my opinion. The movie would have sounded great with a DTS track - why this film doesn't have one is a head scratcher. But the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds clear and clean enough, with just enough play in the surrounds to draw you in. Listen, for example to the directional effects involving AMEE's flying remote probe - nice. All in all, it's good DVD audio - not great, but good.

The extras are relegated to 15 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes (8 scenes in all). Not one of them deserved to be in the film - you can see why they were cut. The quality of these is only slightly better than VHS, with the darker shots exhibiting grain and other artifacts - work print footage probably. There's also cast and crew listing with filmographies. There's no trailer, which is mildly surprising. But what are you going to do?

Red Planet is an okay film. It's not very plausible and it's full of bad science... but that's okay. Nobody said making movies was brain surgery. And making Sci-fi movies these days is even less so it seems. Bottom line: if you like campy, 1950s rocketship flicks, you'll love this.

Todd Doogan

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