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In the mid-21st century, the nations of a dying Earth look starward for a solution and set out to colonize Mars. But something no one could have expected awaits. Houston, we have big trouble. Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss and Tom Sizemore star in this taut adventure about humankindís first mission to the mysterious Red Planet. Also on the mission is the multifunctional robo-assistant AMEE. In one mode, she's a as loyal as a puppy. But a malfunction has locked her into a far different mode: a killing machine bent on destroying the crew. Yet thatís not the end of the expeditionís perils. Because Mars may be barren, but itís not uninhabited.
For more about Red Planet and the Red Planet Blu-ray release, see Red Planet Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 28, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Simon Baker, Terence Stamp
Director: Anthony Hoffman
» See full cast & crew
Red Planet Blu-ray Review
"Short time to live, long time to wait..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 28, 2011
Of all the things I expected Red Planet to be, a meditation on faith and reason wasn't one of them. And yet it's the film's philosophical questions -- the existence of God, the nature of existence and other unsolved riddles of the universe -- that lift Red Planet out of the genre muck and give it legs to stand on, shaky as those legs may be at times. The rest of the story amounts to little more than an over-plotted compendium of all-too-familiar science fiction tales. Mankind's last hope rests in the success of a last-ditch space mission, a freak accident disables key systems aboard the only ship embarking on said mission, a small group of explorers find themselves stranded on a desolate planet, various dangers pick off crewmen one-by-one, a once-docile robot turns on its human masters, a startling discovery changes everything, the fate of humanity hangs on a next-to-impossible launch from the surface... there's even a bit of "life, uh, finds a way" thrown in to sweeten the pot. (It's a dozen genre pics for the price of one!) Were there a few more slow-mo explosions, a half-hour subplot-to-nowhere crammed into the second act, and an Aerosmith song wafting on the wind, I might even utter the words "Michael Bay." But, by some mildly astonishing miracle, Red Planet doesn't crash and burn, at least not entirely. It's overcrowded and contrived, but it isn't predictable or uneventful by any means, and it certainly isn't as dull or disastrously dizzying as Mission to Mars, 2000's other Mars-minded box-office flop.
The year is 2056 and Earth is dying. It seems humanity has nearly exhausted its resources, irreversibly polluted its air and water supplies, and all but sealed its fate. Earth's only hope lies in terraforming Mars and creating a sustainable source of oxygen; a plan which initially succeeds, promising eventual colonization and possible salvation. But when the oxygen levels on the recently terraformed planet drop sharply and suddenly, a ship and its crew -- Commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix), geneticist and militant skeptic Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore, Saving Private Ryan), God-fearing scientist Bud Chantillas (Terence Stamp, Wanted), pilot Ted Santen (Benjamin Bratt, Law & Order), terraforming expert Chip Pettengill (Simon Baker, The Mentalist) and systems engineer Robby Gallagher (Val Kilmer, Heat) -- are dispatched to determine what went wrong. Nothing goes as planned, though, and Burchenal, Chantillas, Santen, Pettengill and Gallagher soon find themselves stuck on the planet's surface, watching as their own oxygen levels are slowly depleted. Making matters worse, their planetary navigator -- a repurposed military bot dubbed AMEE -- is damaged and identifies the men as threats when they attempt to fix her. As time begins to run out, Bowman (alone aboard their orbiting ship) races to find a way to retrieve her team, Chantillas tries to figure out why the terraforming process is failing, and Gallagher has to make some tough choices, among them who lives and who dies.
Belief -- or, more specifically, faith -- is central to Red Planet, and the pathways it prepares for the reluctant Mars-1 soul searchers are far more interesting than any mysteries surrounding missing algae fields or spent oxygen supplies. (Even though a slick but not-so-secret twist is tucked just up the film's sleeve.) The real exploration is revealed, then, to be something more meaningful than Gallagher's trek across the Martian landscape. Reason isn't dismissed, but its forgone conclusions are; faith isn't exhorted, but its relevance, even in 2056, is. Naturally, that means those who embrace faith will be more apt to overlook Red Planet's flaws and superficiality. It also means others will take a dislike to its sometimes heavy-handed quasi-sermon, no matter how wide screenwriters Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin cast their net. The action, the intrigue, the struggle for life, Gallagher's murderous tinker-toy... each one serves the message at the heart of the film, and not much else. In fact, the mission and its particulars spool out of Pfarrer and Lemkin's metaphysical discourse, rather than vice versa. Instead of plot holes (although there are still plenty of those), we're presented with a series of philosophical chasms; instead of a tightly wound narrative, we're left with a string of moral crises, the majority of which, ironically, result in death. Initially, the exploration of faith and the Beyond lends weight to what might otherwise be a paper-thin sci-fi thriller. But upon further inspection, the film starts to pull apart at the seams. Red Planet asks lofty questions, leads its sacrificial lambs to their doom, and then attempts to teach a neat-n-tidy but infuriatingly vague Sunday School lesson that, in some cases, contradicts whatever God appears to be teaching both the agnostics and zealots of Mars-1. No matter, Pfarrer and Lemkin scoff. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and God works in mysterious ways. Problem solved. Thematic implosion averted. Or not. It's hard to tell, really. Red Planet's ultimate message isn't as easy to pin down as it first seems, and that's coming from someone who has long been convinced that faith and reason aren't mutually exclusive.
Whenever Pfarrer and Lemkin's meditation teeters into omni-spiritual limbo, we're left in the less-than-graceful care of first-and-last-time director Antony Hoffman, who capably assembles an exciting, albeit ordinary sci-fi thriller yet never seems as taken with the deep waters of its entry-level existentialism as the film's screenwriters. Convincing friendships are developed from the outset as Red Planet's imperfect but perfectly likable Mars-1 crewmen earn their stripes, earn a few laughs and, in some cases, earn what's coming to them. Casting is problematic -- Sizemore as a brilliant geneticist? Moss as a hard-lining commander? Bratt as anything other than Bratt? -- but Sizemore and Moss are at least functional, and Kilmer, Stamp and Baker are spot on, lighting fires where there are none. (Besides, 50/50 isn't a bad split for a second-tier six-actor ensemble.) And the tension Hoffman endlessly cranks up and up is never terribly involving either. Failing systems, damaged equipment, depleting oxygen, killer robots, closing windows, freak accidents, creepy crawlers, panicky betrayals; with so much going wrong so often, the only legitimate danger is getting tangled up in Hoffman, Pfarrer and Lemkin's puppet strings. But the action sequences keep things barreling along, Hoffman's pacing is brisk and bristling (after a slow start), Pfarrer and Lemkin's banter-ridden dialogue crackles with a rapidfire tenacity, the film's visual effects aren't as distracting as they could be (save a few third-act eyesores) and there's enough fun to be had to keep Red Planet huffing and puffing, even when it runs out of air.
Red Planet Blu-ray, Video Quality
Red Planet makes its Blu-ray debut with an excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that rockets past its DVD counterpart. The steely gray hull and blue-lit passageways of the Mars-1, the sun-blasted yellows and dusty oranges of the planet, and the bottomless blacks of Hoffman's space-scape have never looked better, fleshtones are convincing and consistent (barring a flushed face or two) and contrast and clarity aren't far behind. (Shots involving visual effects aren't as striking as most other scenes, but most of the presentation's shortcomings are tied to the film's source.) Detail is quite impressive as well, with naturally resolved fine textures, remarkable closeups, and crisp, clean object definition. As to the encode itself, there isn't much to criticize. Some minor artifacting flutters to the surface in a handful of scenes (the worst of which disrupts the sky behind Kilmer and Sizemore around the 1:08:00 mark), crush creeps into a few shots, and slight, almost negligible ringing is apparent throughout. But videophiles won't have to contend with much else. I didn't catch sight of any significant macroblocking, banding, aliasing or smearing, and inherent inconsistencies in the now eleven-year-old image are the only things that will give most viewers pause.
Red Planet Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track makes the most of Hoffman's excursion to Mars, from the otherworldly howl of a planetary storm to the groaning steel of a shuttering ship, the clank sizzt clank sizzt of a relentless robot, and the roar of a surging fireball. Explosions and other low-end elements are rugged and robust, and the ever-present, mechanical hum of the Mars-1 settles deep within the soundscape. LFE output isn't entirely reliable -- some scenes seem to favor volume over prowess -- but the original sound design seems to be the culprit more than anything. Thankfully, rear speaker activity is engaging (in spite of some stocky directional effects), acoustics are believable, and ambience is both effective and enveloping. Dialogue is also intelligible, well-prioritized and neatly nestled in the mix, and voices remain grounded, regardless of how chaotic Gallagher and Burchenal's Mars-mission becomes. I wouldn't go so far as to call the experience extraordinary, but as eleven-year-old sci-fi thrillers go, it all sounds quite good.
Red Planet Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray release of Red Planet is barren. Extras are limited to eight deleted scenes (SD, 14 minutes) -- "Santen & Chantilas," "Green House," "Bacon & Wife," "Fight," "Amee Jams H.H.C.'s," "Kiss Flashback," "Potato Scene" and "Ice Cave" -- and a theatrical trailer (SD, 2 minutes).
Red Planet Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Red Planet is at least a dozen films rolled into one bite-sized sci-fi thriller, but it spreads itself so thin that it falls short of its ambitions. There's still an entertaining, unexpectedly meditative genre pic buried in there somewhere, though, and its second-act left-turn, while not entirely shocking, is worth the cost of a rental alone. Thankfully, with a terrific video transfer and immersive DTS-HD Master Audio track in tow, Warner's Blu-ray release will easily please fans of the film, lackluster supplemental package or no.
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• Red Planet Blu-ray and Soldier Blu-ray Announced - March 30, 2011
Warner Home Video has announced two science fiction movies for release on Blu-ray on July 27: Red Planet, an adventure about humankind's first mission to the mysterious Red Planet; and Paul W.S. Anderson's Soldier, in which mammoth "crawler" vehicles roam, ...
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