2001: A Space Trilogy

With the recent fascination with Mars epics, you’d think it was 1982 again.

I’m referring of course to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of science-fiction, which Mission to Mars and Red Planet obviously aspired.

The former tries way too hard for the philosophical. The latter doesn’t deny its action flick foundation.

To start with, Red Planet has some really good tech. The computer displays used throughout are very cool: lot’s of projection technology on thin metallic scroll-like displays, with the exception of one really retarded Active Helper on a Russian module screen. This guy must have been contributed by Microsoft.

Second, this movie finally got it right with its concept of printed circuit boards. I’m sorry for this peeve of mine, since my primary line of work is with PCB design. I get so disgusted when I see a sci-fi movie with supposedly high-tech and the prop department used a measly ISA soundcard for its vision of the future.

Red Planet uses these really nifty neon colored board for its innards. Perhaps optical boards? Perhaps quantum computer guts? Who knows? And that’s precisely how a fictional perspective of the future should be: unidentifiable.

Finally, there’s AMEE, the mechanical robot loaner from the Marine Corp (read: convenient military villains). This thing is really a marvel to watch. It moves very “life”-like, if such a mechanoid were constructed out of steel and rivets. It’s powerful, fast, and completely relentless when switched to “military mode.” In short, it’s a the pet dog that The Terminator never had. Quite frankly, it’s not AMEE’s performance that I had a hard time buying. It’s the fact that our government could ever produce such a technologically efficient machine. Move over Mars Lander!

There’s a fair amount of cheese unfortunately. But then, when you’re dealing with a big Hollywood studio production, you begin to take those with a grain of salt. Thankfully, Planet‘s cheese never reaches Bruckheimer proportions (Armageddon‘s pretty much up at the top of the crap sci-fi list).

I guess to appeal to the common man (by now raised on an unhealthy dose of MTV and the internet) the producers turned these astronauts into rock stars who listen to loud music, make moon shine in the galley, and wear cool sunglasses. But hey, if it worked for Neo and gang in Matrix, why not for astronauts in outer space?

On the upshot, Carrie-Ann Moss has never looked better. However, her role here is a downgrade since The Matrix, although there’s a few instances where she seems to be playing Trinity again. Near the end, there’s a segment right out of the Wachowski’s masterpiece where she’s trying to convince her hero to get off his butt and get back to the ship. Unfortunately, first time director Antony Hoffman has her in sub-Ripley mode traipsing about the ship while the hapless astronauts / rock-‘n-rollers run from the ruthless robotic predator, ala Aliens.

Providing the philosophical balance to this hot-shot crew is Terrence Stamp. He plays a jaded scientist who “discovered that science can’t answer the really big questions in life,” and he’s “been looking for God ever since.” His staunch notion of faith challenges the other more narcissistic crew members.

The effects are top notch too. In particular, the landing on the planet’s surface was quite a cool spectacle. But more importantly, the effects are well choreographed. Besides any semblance of story, Mission to Mars failed in its coordination of special effects with its human players. Getting them to work together in interesting and well-planned ways is the key. Planet does this well, and there’s some tense action effects scenes. The fire in the orbiting station that Moss has to extinguish was very exciting. Fire in zero gravity is something to behold.

Sure, Red Planet borrows a lot from other movies. But thankfully, it gets most of the good parts in all of them and is light on the dumb parts.

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