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RED PLANET

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjiman Bratt, Terence Stamp
Director: Antony Hoffman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Deleted Scenes
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: March 27, 2001

Film **1/2

Red Planet is a marvelous looking movie. Right from frame one, it is simply hard not to be awe struck by the visionary look this movie has to offer. It also contains some of the most astonishing visual effects to be seen in any movie since The Matrix, so good in fact that the effects team should’ve gotten some Oscar attention. However, when the movie is not displaying its visual wonder, and concentrating on its mostly bland story, it then becomes more of a challenge not to fall asleep.

Last year boasted two space adventures about missions to conquer the planet of Mars. Fist came Mission to Mars, which was an unfairly panned and dismissed visionary gem where the look of the movie was more or less the star, as most of director Brian De Palma’s movies are. It also contained some interesting bits in its story, particularly in its concluding moments, which even though it might not seem totally believable, still dazzled the senses. It’s too bad because while Red Planet has got Mission to Mars beaten slightly in the visual effects department, it lacks an engaging story, which at times meanders between a study of science, a suspense thriller, and a special effects show.

The movie is set in the year 2025, and Earth’s atmosphere is slowly being damaged through poison. It is demanded that humanity needs a new home, and Mars has been chosen to be the designated new home. A crew is then assigned to investigate the planet to ensure the safety of it to be colonized. The crew is comprised of Commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss), and the shipmates include Gallagher (Val Kilmer), Quinn (Tom Sizemore), Santen (Benjamin Bratt), Chip (Simon Baker), and Chantillas (Terence Stamp). The mission goes awry following the crash landing of the spacecraft, which has an extremely hostile effect on the crew’s robotic watch dog named AMEE, which, for my money, is the movie’s most intriguing character and special effect. AMEE is designed to protect the crew, but quickly turns into a deadly monster with intentions of destroying the very crewmembers she is designed to protect.

The best moments in Red Planet are when the AMEE robot attacks the crew on Mars. These sequences boast the movie’s impressive visual effects, and I wished that the screenwriters had focused more on this subplot of the movie, which unfortunately last for about only two scenes in the movie. The ads for the movie mainly showed those scenes, so that’s more or less what I expected to see, and had the movie revolved around the stranded astronauts defending themselves against the menacing robot, I would’ve come off as a much better piece of entertainment. The cast did what they could with such a dry script. Val Kilmer is an actor we don’t get to see much of anymore, so I was very pleased to see him in the lead role, and Carrie-Anne Moss is always a sight for the eyes, though it’s a bit disappointing that she doesn’t receive much screen time, since her character is stuck in a commanding post while all the other crewmembers are on Mars.

Red Planet does have a few scenes of individual action that include some outstanding visual effects, but what the movie suffers from in general is lack of action. The movie consists mainly of the astronaut characters stranded on a desolate, dry planet uttering desolate, dry dialogue. Had the makers of the movie strived for an action approach, Red Planet would’ve come off as a success, but for what it is, I consider it more of a letdown and Mission to Mars the better of the two Mars movies.

Video ****

Warner Bros had given a grand DVD treatment of a grand looking movie. Their transfer for Red Planet is easily the studio’s first greatest transfer of this year. Presented in an anamorphically enhanced widescreen presentation, this crisp picture booms with visual wonder. The movie is shot in mostly red colors, and is also very dark at times, and the picture still comes off as a knockout. The transfer for Red Planet is vital proof that Warner Bros and science fiction movies go hand in hand on DVD.  

Audio ****

The ears were certainly rocked on this one! The audio job on Red Planet is of the most intergalactic quality. Presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, Warner Bros displays their usual brilliance of audio jobs. If you’ve got a good sound system, Red Planet is a good disc to show off to friends, as the speakers seem to pick up everything from soundtrack to sound effects thoroughly with pure, clear excellence.

Features **

Red Planet is yet another disc that Warner Bros has reasonably priced under $20. Of the studio’s recent number of budget-priced titles, Red Planet lacks more in the extras field. All that’s included is a deleted scenes compilation, which does include some intriguing cuts nonetheless. But since Warner Bros had included some cool extras on other budget discs like Get Carter and Battlefield Earth, it’s safe to say that more is expected, like a commentary or a documentary.

Summary:

Red Planet had much potential, especially with its dynamic special effects, but the bland story and dialogue are the film’s primary weakness. I would definitely recommend viewing the movie solely on its look and effects.