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SF Films in Review — Fri 10 Nov 2000

Red Planet

Directed by Antony Hoffman; screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, story by Chuck Pfarrer; starring Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore. (Warner Bros.)

Review Grades

source, reviewer actual score grade*
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert *** B
CNN, Paul Tatara   D
LAT, Kevin Thomas   C-
Mr. Showbiz, Michael Atkinson 38/100 D
NYT, Stephen Holden   C-
Salon, Charles Taylor   D+
Slate, David Edelstein   C-
WP, Rita Kempley   C-
IMDb 6.2/10 C+
* Assigned by Locus Online as subjective summary of each review


Slate's Summary Judgment

Critics debate whether this Mars movie is worse, just as bad, or a bit better than the last one, which most judged a dud...

Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert

"Red Planet" would have been a great 1950s science fiction film. It embodies the kind of nuts-and-bolts sci-fi championed by John W. Campbell Jr. in his Astounding magazine--right down to the notion that a space mission would be staffed by research scientists, and although there would be a woman on board, she would not be the kind of woman depicted in an aluminum brassiere on the covers of his competitors. This is a film where much of the suspense involves the disappearance of algae.

The film has been sneered at in some quarters because it is not the kind of brainless high-tech computerized effects extravaganza now in favor. I like its emphasis on situation and character. I've always been fascinated by zero-sum plots in which a task has to be finished within the available supplies of time, fuel and oxygen.

CNN, Paul Tatara

This one is based on the gospel according to "Alien" (1979), in which a diverse crew of space travelers is forced to confront a sophisticated killing machine that's impossible to stop ... except for right near the end of the movie, when it absolutely has to be.

LAT, Kevin Thomas

When it comes to special effects, the filmmakers have spared no expense. But when it comes to the story, audiences have been shortchanged. "Red Planet" plays flat: There's precious little sense of adventure, suspense or excitement and no sense of fun.

Mr. Showbiz, Michael Atkinson

Rather than revolving around a revolutionary concept (science fiction is nothing if not conceptually defined), Red Planet attempts to be pseudo-realist, an adventure saga in which the characters matter most. ... The problem is that the characters aren't convincingly written, rarely if ever behave like believable humans, and consequently don't matter to us in the least.

NYT, Stephen Holden

[A] leaden, skimpily plotted space-age Outward Bound adventure with vague allegorical aspirations that remain entirely unrealized.

Salon, Charles Taylor

[I]t's a thoroughly depressing experience because the film gives you nothing; because the film makes it blatant that we've reached the state where the most extraordinary computer-generated effects can be used at the service of utter banality; because it's a work in an imaginative genre without a trace of imagination...

Slate, David Edelstein

Say what you will about the softheaded climax of Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars (2000), it had stately, David Lean-like tempos and more lyricism than any space opera this side of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Red Planet won't be hissed at the way De Palma's movie was—on its own crappy terms, it delivers, but after two hours of spurious cliffhangers and characters behaving with no dramatic logic, you'll wonder if that algae ended up in the producers' heads.

WP, Rita Kempley

"Red Planet," the year's second first-manned-mission to our angry little neighbor, is a bland B-movie with a big fat price tag that bought a surplus of spiffy effects and not much else. The picture proves more entertaining than the earlier "Mission to Mars," but the laughter is in response to the creaky dialogue, trite characters and a formulaic plot that's as obvious as Captain Kirk's toupee.

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