Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Films of the 00s: Mission to Mars

Most people hated it. Its supporters not only lionized it, they openly disdained the people who hated it, including their own colleagues. Had I followed these kinds of turf wars more closely in 2000, I would have made a point of seeing Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars and having something to say for myself. Certainly post-Black Dahlia, a fascinatingly mixed bag that prompted one of my favorites of my own reviews, I'm intent on catching all De Palma movies when they open, and on exploring more of his back catalog. So, to that end, better late than never:

"Call me craven, but I feel sure that Mission to Mars isn't nearly as bad or nearly as accomplished as its detractors or champions espoused amid their memorable slugfest. Say this for the movie: almost every memorable bit plays to the film's advantage, and certainly to De Palma's, even if the general fabric from which they emerge is more than a little frayed.

The opening sequence blends technical virtuosity with a kind of warm and personal storytelling modesty that's rare for De Palma: Stephen H. Burum's graceful, almost zero-gravity camera executes a miraculous sequence shot that evokes the breezy domesticity of a backyard barbeque, while staying just shy of being too smug or showy about its own formal accomplishment. No slam intended on Boogie Nights, but I'm more impressed when a sustained shot like this culminates in a textured evocation of an almost quotidian event than when filmmakers drop one in for obvious razzle-dazzle...."
(keep reading...)

After this film and The Beach back-to-back, I'll follow up shortly with something more esoteric for all you high-art types, though Armond White, Charles Taylor, and Pauline Kael (as if the first and second didn't already imply the third) would stress to us that Mission to Mars is high art. Meanwhile, my partner in crime Tim Robey will join me for another conversation about a film that I suspect we both admire at about the same level, but it's such a bold, fractious, complicated case that no two opinions are likely to be quite the same.



Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

Gah! I hated this movie with a burning passion. It's been on my list of worst movies ever made since I saw it. Woeful stuff.

...and yet, I don't remember much. I remember the explicitly negative reaction more than the movie. i remember bad product placement, the history of the world explained by diarama and weird looking aliens.

I never want to watch it ever again.

Your Black Dahlia review is one of my favourites of yours, too!

3:03 AM, July 15, 2009  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

I've never understood the impassioned vitriol against "Mission to Mars," though I wouldn't count myself among the lionisers either.

However, like Glenn, I have few specific memories of the film other than how astonishingly beautiful it is (is it as all-red-all-the-time as I seem to recall?), which for me, more than made up for the woolliness of the narrative. (Which is hardly worse than any number of huge sci-fi curate's aggs Hollywood lays every few years ... remember "Sphere?")

That said, I very rarely walk out of a DePalma film without at least something to love. ("Snake Eyes" is the one for which I usually don my public defender's suit.)

His only wholly worthless title in my mind is "The Bonfire of the Vanities," such a freakishly bizarre mismatch of filmmaker and material one wonder's how it ever went ahead. Isn't it ripe for a remake by now?

3:36 AM, July 15, 2009  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Ew, I have no idea how that apostrophe in "wonders" wormed its way in there.

3:39 AM, July 15, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

I'm glad we didn't do a conversation on this one, or we'd have agreed (again) on the best and worst bits. All the stuff leading up to the Robbins-popsicle sequence brilliantly achieved; everything at the end quite hideous. Anyway, it sure beats Red Planet. Guy, I tried to watch Bonfire again a few months ago and made it through about three minutes -- that tracking shot down the corridor is so ghastly and smug I couldn't imagine the movie ever recovering. Have you read The Devil's Candy? Unputdownable.

5:44 AM, July 15, 2009  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Thanks for the tip, Tim. I must sheepishly admit that I haven't read "The Devil's Candy," though I will certainly be seeking it out.

Meanwhile, you're a far braver man than I to even ATTEMPT a revisiting of "Bonfire": the very recollection of Melanie Griffith's brave but inexplicable choice to play a 1980s corporate vixen by way of Judy Holliday is enough to frighten me off once more.

Seriously, I've been advocating a remake for a while now: the fact that it would now be a period piece only makes things more interesting.

2:57 PM, July 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I haven't: seen Snake Eyes (shame), seen Bonfire of the Vanities (self-protection), read Bonfire of the Vanities (big miss?). I'm way at the back of this conversation.

@Glenn: The only compensation for the weird look of the aliens is that it gives more weight to the Sinise casting. I'm not being flip when I say he looks an awful lot like them, and the film's version of evolution sort of bears out why that might be. Armond White beat me to this point, but it's nice to have reason to agree with him from time to time.

3:36 PM, July 15, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i hated this movie nearly as much as Glenn at the time (I think it was paired with "chocolat" in worst of the year) but i remember even less than Glenn.

and I'm not averse to appreciating DePalma when other people have trouble doing so (The Black Dahlia)

10:08 PM, July 15, 2009  
Blogger Glenn said...

"Snake Eyes" is 50/50 with me. There are spectacular moments in it, but the bad stuff isn't anywhere near as fascinating as the bad stuff in, say, "The Black Dahlia".

The opening one-take is great though and especially the panicked evacuation moment.

Glad to know Nat's backin' me up. I remember watching it with the mother and she hated it as much as I.

3:27 AM, July 16, 2009  
Anonymous predator said...

I really liked this movie. It was created by the same people who thought the Predator- another great movie!

6:59 AM, August 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked at a cinema when this came out, so I saw it for free and on a big screen with big sound. I still felt cheated. When are you film school morons going to understand that it takes more than some flashy cinematography to make a film worth watching?? SOme of the dialogue is laugh out loud bad, the acting is worse, and to cap it all, the CGI is beyond terrible...oh, and the plot. I love sci fi, but when it's bad sci fi, it's just the worst!

7:42 PM, February 13, 2012  

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