Mission to Mars
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Much as in 1998 when two movies about killer asteroids about to hit the Earth opened within a few months of each other, this year features two movies about the first manned mission to Mars.  The  first of these, Mission to Mars opened this week. The second, The Red Planet, comes out this summer.  The two Asteroid movies, Armageddon and Deep Impact were very different. Armageddon went for action over realism and Deep Impact did the opposite. In the end, both turned out to be entertaining films. The jury is still out on what The Red Planet will be like but Mission to Mars has neither action nor realism.  This film follows two groups of astronauts.  The first group is sent on the first manned mission to Mars. The second group is sent on a rescue mission when disaster strikes. Mission to Mars meanders along at a very slow pace throughout and may seem longer than its 2 hour running time.  Having set my expectations for this movie at an appropriately low level before seeing it, I was able to enjoy most of it but this is not a good film.  The presence of Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins in the cast help raise the level of the movie above the material but by the end Mission to Mars had become laughable. There is very little action aside from one special effects storm on Mars that results in death for most of the first astronaut crew.  Here the crew inexplicably stand and watch the storm approach rather than fleeing to safety.  In another scene where the spaceship hull is punctured, the only tension is created by having Gary Sinise inexplicably not wear his space helmet.  It was like he had never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The lack of realism is seen most strongly in a scene where the crew transfers from one spacecraft to another defying orbital mechanics. OK, so I'm an astronomer. I notice these things.  A more noticeable error to the layman is how much air there seems to be on Mars which in reality has about 1% of that seen on Earth.  For a more realistic view of the Martian atmosphere, see Wolff et al. 1999. It is hard to recommend anything about this film except the cast which is quite good.  In addition to Sinise and Robbins, Jerry O'Connell of Slider's fame provides some comic relief as if this film needed it, and Don Cheadle is good as the commander of the first Mars mission.  The special effects are a bit low rent. And they spend more screen time at the the astronauts going away party than they do in space.  Much of the look and feel of the spaceships and also of the ending of the film is stolen straight from  2001: A Space Odyssey.  Stay home and watch it instead.