“Enos Marmor Iuvato!”

Movies don’t generally do space adventure well. The best sf movies involving space travel are mostly science fantasy (e.g. the Star Wars franchise). Which I also like, but which is different.

So I was excited to hear about Mars, an independent film mixing rotoscoped live action mixed with animated footage. Waking Life… in SPA-A-A-A-ACE? Had to see it.

Now I’ve seen it and I have to admit I’m a little let down. How can a movie be so dull when it features Kinky Friedman playing the President of the United States?

Lackluster acting is part of the problem. The dead-voiced, unconvincing performances of Howe Gelb (as NASA somethingorother Shep McWhatsisname) and Paul Gordon (as billionaire astronaut buzzkill Hank Morrison) brought the temperature down to lukewarm whenever they were onscreen.

But the finest actors in the world couldn’t have saved the script, which is an incoherent jumble that doesn’t quite tell any of the various stories it touches on.

There are some good bits, here, though: some comicbooky animations of space-travel via ion-cannon; the idea of terrestrial life infecting the Martian landscape; artificial intelligence kindling in landrovers; love and last chances in an alien landscape and in a half-empty mission-control room; a daring extravehicular repair mission in deep space.

Good intentions and good details don’t quite make the movie work, but it wasn’t a complete waste of time. There were nice performances by Cynthia Watrous and Michael Dolan running the earthside operations for a robotic Mars rover, and the lead actors (Zoe Dean and Mark Duplass) did well with a romance that was predictable but understated.

Not a must-see, but maybe worth seeing once. With a better script, a low-budget/low-fi movie like this could really be great.

MARS – The Movie [HD Trailer] from Geoff Marslett on Vimeo.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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