" She came at me in sections. More curves than a scenic railway. "
— Fred Astaire, The Bandwagon

MRQE Top Critic

Almost Famous

Director Cameron Crowe extends his autobiographical homage to 70s rock —Risë Keller (DVD review...)

Patrick Fugit is Almost Famous

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To: Alonzo F.
Vice President of Strategic Planning,
Applied Space Resources

Dear Alonzo,

I know you look at sci-fi movies with a skeptical eye. If the science is wrong because of lazy screenwriters, you get mad. That’s why I recommend you don’t go see Mission To Mars.

M2M is set 20 years in the future. Budweiser comes in waxed cardboard boxes, Isuzu builds a single-seat SUV, internal combustion engines are a thing of the past, and NASA is sending the first manned mission to Mars.

After a quick introduction to the astronauts and their families, the movie jumps ahead one year, where the first Martian explorers are doing some radar mapping. While investigating a possible source of water, the crew notices the wind start to blow. Soon the wind forms into a giant worm-like dust vortex, which swallows the crew. Earth can’t tell what happened, but because of one last desperate signal, it knows three of the four astronauts are dead.

Another mission is assembled to rescue the survivor (if there is one) and repair the base camp’s systems. They also want to find out just what happened on the surface that day.

Alonzo, I know you’re going to see this anyway. At least there are some good qualities to it

There are graceful, dizzying scenes of zero-g life onboard and outside the rescue ship. Cinematography, direction, and special effects really came together to produce some beautiful three-dimensional motion.

Backing up the great visuals was some impeccable sound editing. In two different scenes the camera circles a room, and the sound of a person’s voice or of music circles with it. Home theater DVD geeks will go crazy for this movie.

In addition, the screenplay (written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas and Graham Yost) makes an incredibly bold decision that caught me completely by surprise. Naturally, I can’t say what it is, but it earned some extra points for its gutsiness.

But the movie’s science is going to make you mad. One scene crucial to the plot cannot happen. It involves something from the ship drifting back behind it. It’s a situation that would only happen if the ship were accelerating, which it isn’t. We know it isn’t because one of the astronauts just came in from a space walk, and he didn’t drift back.

Another part that won’t work for you involves DNA. In fact, a lot of stupid things are said about DNA. Since the movie’s climax hinges on the specifics, I won’t go into detail. However, I can repeat a quote for you that illustrates my point. After glancing at a few dozen protein pairs on a computer model, one of the astronauts says “That DNA looks human!”

Finally, with your background in ethics, I think you will dislike the secret behind the dust vortex. The movie tells us why it’s there, but the reason it gives doesn’t fit with the rest of what we learn. I won’t say too much now, but when the movie is over and you think about it, you’ll be disappointed.

But even without the flaws in science and ethics, M2M is really not a very good movie. There were two corny scenes of exposition that were almost intolerably bad. The first happens at the beginning when Jim (Gary Sinise), sharing an emotional moment with the guys, brings up his dead wife. The second happens when Jim and Woody (Tim Robbins) put together their rescue plan, sounding like some 8-year-old’s idea of a heroic spaceman.

The film’s payoff was equally bad. After taking us on a journey across millions of miles, the movie ends with an idea that is neither original, nor exciting, nor thought-provoking. In fact, if you’ve seen a few trailers, then you’ve seen just about everything.

But I’m sure you’ll go see it for yourself anyway. If and when you do, drop me a line and let me know what you thought. I say it a disappointment, but I’m not sorry I saw it.

Hope all is well with you. Give my best to your wife.


Marty Mapes