Brian DePalma has directed twenty six movies in his career, some are cinematic classics, some entertaining romps, and some barely watchable stinkers. “Scarface”, “Carrie”, and “The Untouchables” fit that first category, “Mission: Impossible” the second, and “Mission to Mars” easily the third.
This sci-fi drama is a real yawner, with lots of talk and overly long scenes starting with a really out of place feeling barbecue party scene. DePalma can handle action well and jumps from that into a sequence involving the fate of the first mission’s crew which is easily the highlight of the whole movie – a tense 4 minute scene which has been used a lot in the trailers, and ends with one of the best onscreen deaths I’ve seen in a while.
After that though its all downhill from there, lots of paper thin characters talking a lot and not actually doing much. The one character with some depth is Sinise, though hasn’t the subplot of the dead wife been done to death already – geez, try something new fellas. The rest of the cast is made up of solid actors giving the material more value than they’re actually worth.
As they get close to Mars, DePalma picks up the pace again with two quite long action sequences joined together – both are quite interesting, though the second one really went on for way too long. After that brief respite, the film really begins to sink into morbidity. There’s a heck of a lot of preaching morality stuff “we’re explorers” along with some questionable scientific bits, and the ending just feels weak. To give you an idea, people in the cinema we’re laughing heartily at the cheesiness of the last 20 minutes – and this was a premiere crowd which usually acts more positively to a film than a normal one.
What’s really frustrating with the movie is the pace – its as slow as a wet rag. DePalma uses long blocks of similar scenes so he’ll do 20 mins of talking and 20 mins of action rather than mixing about 7-8 mins of both one after the other. This has the advantage of creating the potential for some truly great memorable cinematic moments, but its never once achieved – everything feels so cold.
You don’t warm to these characters at all, so you don’t really care what happens to them. The musical score is awful, extremely loud and out of place. Throughout one action sequence there’s some kind of large church organ music playing which ruins any attempt at suspense during the scene. The martian landscape FX are beautiful and despite the overuse of CG towards the end, for the most part the FX are quite good. Pity the story, dialogue and characters weren’t.