Reflections of the Third Eye
3 April 2013
Mission To Mars (1998)
Now Playing: Real Madrid-Galatasaray
Topic: M

I am not sure why Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars has provoked so much dislike. Most of the supposed flaws - the stiff, mannered 1950s style acting, the highly dramatic music score, the plot clichés - should be regarded as deliberate references to the cinematic history of science fiction, which is exactly what one would expect from an unrepentant film student like De Palma. My guess would be that the audience failed to understand the intentions behind this movie, not least those who were expecting another one-dimensional Armageddon-type blockbuster. Misapprehension has been a familiar refrain through much of De Palma's career and seems particularly unfortunate here, as this is a movie that is easy to like if you let it. Most importantly, it carries a generous portion of the key ingredient that sci-fi genre fans refer to as 'Sense of wonder'. At the same time, this is no 2001, as a closer scrutiny reveals.

On the minus side, the exposition is very weak, especially by De Palma standards (recall the dazzling openings of Bonfires Of The Vanities or Snake Eyes). Furthermore, the stereotyped acting of Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins in particular, though humorous and appropriate from a genre history viewpoint, can't help but diminish the dramatic impact of the movie, especially as De Palma simultaneously asks us to care for these characters. The sets are uneven, with the makeshift Martian base failing to convince.

On the plus side is an interesting plot idea, presented in a backward fashion and revealed towards the end in a much more elegant way than the highly similar plot element in Prometheus; some stunning visual effects and camera-work that are trademark De Palma, several intense and dramatic scenes also typical of his self-confident direction, and the aforementioned 'sense of wonder' (not unlike Contact) which is something that cannot be nailed down but needs to be experienced. The logic-defying and sometimes ludicrous plot-twists and character inconsistencies that have been the largest recurring problem in De Palma's movies are almost (almost) entirely absent here; the story moves along on a steady, even keel, much like the old Hollywood movies it resembles.

To my mind this movie's merits by far outweighs it flaws, and it is unfortunate for Brian de Palma that he again had to suffer from the audience's misconceptions and ideas about genre movies, rather than being judged as the talented, serious filmmaker that he is. I loved this movie, and rate it among his best. 8/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 10:05 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:38 AM MEST

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