Mission to Mars
|Mission to Mars|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Brian De Palma|
|Produced by||Tom Jacobson|
|Screenplay by||Jim Thomas
|Story by||Lowell Cannon
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Cinematography||Stephen H. Burum|
|Editing by||Paul Hirsch|
|Distributed by||Touchstone Pictures|
|Running time||113 minutes|
Mission to Mars (2000) is a science fiction film directed by Brian De Palma from an original screenplay written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, and Graham Yost. In 2020, a manned Mars exploration mission goes awry. American astronaut Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise) coordinates a rescue mission for a colleague. Principal support actors were Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O'Connell, and Kim Delaney. Film inspiration was partly from the Disney attraction of the same name, to be the second Disney film based on a theme park attraction, following the 1997 made-for-TV movie Tower of Terror.
Plot details 
In 2020, the first manned mission to Mars is launched. The Mars I spacecraft is commanded by Luke Graham (Don Cheadle) with fellow astronauts Nicholas Willis (Kavan Smith), Sergei Kirov (Peter Outerbridge), and Renée Coté (Jill Teed). Upon arrival, the team discover a crystalline formation within a mountain in the Cydonia region. After transmitting their finding back to the World Space Station orbiting Earth, they head for the site to do further analysis. Once there, they hear a strange sound on their communications system, which they assume to be interference from their planetary rover. While they scan the formation with radar, a large whirlwind springs up and kills Nicholas, Sergei, and Renée. Only Luke survives after being buried alive in the rocky debris. After the vortex subsides, a large humanoid face is exposed within the mountain. Later, Luke manages to upload an emergency transmission to the R.E.M.O. (REsupply MOdule) orbiting the planet. After receiving Luke's garbled message, a second ship is hastily readied for a rescue mission.
The crew of the Mars II recovery craft includes Commander Woody Blake (Tim Robbins), Co-Commander Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise), and mission specialists Terri Fisher (Connie Nielsen) and Phil Ohlmyer (Jerry O'Connell). They are sent to investigate the tragedy and rescue Luke. As the ship enters Mars orbit, a swarm of meteors collides with it, breaching the hull. The crew works quickly to repair the damage, but the external fuel tanks are overlooked, causing a large leak and later, an explosion. They quickly put on pressure suits and maneuver their way to the R.E.M.O. module orbiting the planet. Woody concludes that the only hope of a successful rendezvous with the R.E.M.O. is for him to launch himself directly at it using the remainder of his jet pack fuel, carrying a tether from the others. He successfully attaches the cord to the R.E.M.O., but is unable to properly land on it, floating helplessly away toward the planet. Terri tries to rescue Woody, but knowing she would run out of fuel before reaching him, Woody removes his helmet and dies to save her.
When the remaining group arrives on the surface from the R.E.M.O., they find Luke still alive. He has built a greenhouse and is living on its produce. He tells the rescuers about his crew's find, and that the crystalline structure looks humanoid. He's also discovered that the noise they recorded actually represents a map of human DNA in XYZ coordinates, but missing a pair of chromosomes. They suspect that the signal must be a test, inviting them to complete the human genome by adding the missing nucleotide sequence for the missing chromosomes. The earlier team had used radar to scan the crystalline formation, but without providing the right data they had failed the test, triggering the tornado.
Wanting to complete the sequence, but worried about the earlier radar scan, the crew dispatches a robot rover to reproduce the completed signal. Following the transmission, an opening appears in the side of the mountain. Jim, Terri and Luke head towards it, while Phil remains at the repaired emergency return vehicle with orders to launch, with or without them, at the agreed time. The trio ventures inside and the opening seals them in, disrupting radio communication with Phil. Soon, a three-dimensional projection of the solar system appears. They see the planet Mars, covered with water, being struck by a large asteroid, the surface subsequently ruined. A Martian then appears before the group.
It reveals that the Martians evacuated their world in spacecraft following the collision. All the vehicles headed out of the solar system except one, which went to a lifeless Earth first, leaving something behind in the ocean. The display then fast forwards through millions of years, showing the evolution of fish, land mammals and eventually humans, who could one day land on Mars and be recognized as descendants.
An invitation is offered for one astronaut to follow them to their new home planet. Jim decides to accept the invitation himself. After their farewells, the rest of the crew head back to the ship as Phil calls for them one last time before he is to take off. Still inside the alien structure, Jim steps into a cylinder which starts to fill with liquid. Fearing drowning, he initially holds his breath but soon discovers that the liquid is highly oxygenated, allowing him to breathe normally. The rest of the crew reach Phil in time and the three successfully lift off from Mars. As Jim is being prepared for what awaits him, he has a flashback of the important memories of his life. Jim's Martian ship blasts away and as it passes by his friends' earthbound capsule, they wish him luck on his voyage.
- Gary Sinise as Jim McConnell
- Tim Robbins as Woody Blake
- Don Cheadle as Luke Graham
- Connie Nielsen as Terri Fisher
- Jerry O'Connell as Phil Ohlmyer
- Kim Delaney as Maggie McConnell
- Peter Outerbridge as Sergei Kirov
- Kavan Smith as Nicholas Willis
- Jill Teed as Renée Coté
- Elise Neal as Debra Graham
- Robert Bailey Jr. as Bobby Graham
- Taylor Jones as Daniel Lederman
- Armin Mueller-Stahl as Ramier Beck
The film was shot primarily on location in Vancouver, British Columbia, Jordan, and the Canary Islands. Extensive special effects surrounding certain aspects of the film such as the NASA spacecraft and Martian vortex, were created by a number of digital effects companies including ILM, Dream Quest Images, Tippett Studio, CIS Hollywood, and Trans FX. Between visuals, miniatures, and animation, over 400 technicians were directly involved in the production aspects of the special effects.
The original score for Mission to Mars, was released by the Hollywood Records music label on March 14, 2000. The score for the film was orchestrated by Ennio Morricone in conjunction with the New York Philharmonic, while songs written by musical artists Van Halen and Buckwheat Zydeco, were used in-between dialogue shots in the film. Suzana Peric and Nick Meyers edited the film's music.
|Mission to Mars: Original Score|
|Film score by Ennio Morricone|
|Mission to Mars: Original Score|
|1.||"Heart Beats in Space"||7:58|
|3.||"A World Which Searches"||2:58|
|5.||"A Wife Lost"||3:26|
|6.||"Towards the Unknown"||8:14|
|7.||"Ecstasy of Mars"||2:57|
|8.||"Sacrifice of a Hero"||13:19|
|10.||"An Unexpected Surprise"||2:32|
|11.||"All the Friends"||2:39|
The film was a co-production between the motion picture studios of Touchstone Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment. It was commercially distributed by Buena Vista Pictures theatrically, and by Buena Vista Home Entertainment for home media. Mission to Mars explores astronomy, extraterrestrial life and space exploration. Despite the fact that the film employed the use of numerous extensive special effects, it failed to garner any award nominations from mainstream motion picture organizations for its production merits. On March 14, 2000, the original film score was released by the Hollywood Records label. It was composed, orchestrated and conducted by Italian musician Ennio Morricone.
Mission to Mars premiered in theaters nationwide in the United States on March 10, 2000 grossing $60,883,407 in domestic ticket receipts. It earned an additional $50,100,000 in business through international release to top out at a combined $110,983,407 in gross revenue. The film was a flop since the studio only earned 10 million dollars considering the 100 million budget costs. Also, preceding its initial screening in cinemas, the film was generally met with negative critical reviews. The widescreen DVD edition of the film featuring audio commentary along with a visual effects analysis among other highlights was released in the United States on June 4, 2002.
Critical response 
Among mainstream critics in the U.S., the film received almost exclusively negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 25% of 110 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 4.1 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 34 based on 36 reviews. Furthermore, the film was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Brian De Palma in the category of Worst Director.
The film's reception among French-language critics was markedly different in positive fashion. Film journal Cahiers du cinéma devoted several articles to De Palma and Mission to Mars at the time of its release, and placed it as #4 in their list of the 10 best films of 2000. The film was screened out of competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.
|"Sinise and Robbins, a couple of awfully good actors, are asked to speak some awfully clunky lines. When Robbins says, “OK, we're ready to light this candle” before ignition, it sounds like a parody of astronaut lingo."|
|—Bob Graham, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle|
Mark Halverson, writing in Sacramento News & Review, said in outward negativity, "My inner child felt cheated that the film leapt from an astronaut barbecue to Mars without so much as a rocket launch and that the best special effect (a sandstorm nod to The Mummy) was unveiled in the first 20 minutes." He emphatically added, "This visually alluring mess also includes gobs of cheesy dialogue and a hokey-looking alien." Left unimpressed, Bob Graham in the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that the film "meanders into space-mystico mumbo jumbo. We're supposed to share the characters' awe at the wonder of the universe, but more likely the audience will wonder whatever were the filmmakers thinking." Graham characterized Mission to Mars as "a very mixed bag: rhapsodic cinematography, several genuine shocks amid a suffocating air of gooeyness, impressive visual effects – even if some seem to exist in a vacuum – and an absolutely loony conclusion." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, said the film "contains conversations that drag on beyond all reason. It is quiet when quiet is not called for. It contains actions that deny common sense. And for long stretches the characters speak nothing but boilerplate." He believed that "It misses too many of its marks. But it has extraordinary things in it. It's as if the director, the gifted Brian De Palma, rises to the occasions but the screenplay gives him nothing much to do in between them." The film however, was not without its supporters. Michael Wilmington of the NY Daily News, exclaimed the film was "One of the most gorgeous science-fiction movies ever - and probably also one of the most realistic in detail and scientific extrapolation". Richard Corliss of TIME commented that "This isn't "2001," by a long shot, but for 2000, it'll do nicely." William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, added to the positive sentiment by saying "Here and there an inspired shot makes the film come alive, and at least three of its sequences had me positioned well on the edge of my seat."
Writing for The Austin Chronicle, Marc Savlov bluntly noted that the "Mission to Mars falls prey to an overwhelming sense of a man trying to please everyone all the time." He went further pointing out that "De Palma has reached out to embrace a larger audience and seemingly sacrificed those traits that drew us to him in the first place: his singular vision, his clinical stylistics, and the palpable sense of dread that his best films engender." In a mixed review, James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called the film "Ineptly directed, badly acted, and scripted with an eye towards stupidity and incoherence, the film is worthwhile only to those who are in desperate need of a nap. And, as is often the case when a big budget, high profile motion picture self-destructs, this one does so in spectacular fashion." Describing a mixed opinion, J. Hoberman of The Village Voice said the film encompassed "a touchy-feely esprit that's predicated on equal parts Buck Rogers bravado and backyard barbecue, the whole burnt burger drenched in Ennio Morricone's elegiac western-style score."
|"Unfortunately, the filmmakers' imagination flags in the closing sequences; the movie's final reel looks like a high-tech museum exhibit entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey for Dummies."|
|—Margaret A. McGurk, writing for The Cincinnati Enquirer|
Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times, stated that the "visual design is spectacular, and the scenes on the Martian surface look so real that the picture could have been made on location. A holographic sequence detailing the evolutionary link between Earth and Mars is staggeringly well staged." However, he ultimately came to the conclusion that there wasn't "an original moment in the entire movie, and the score is so repetitive that it could have been downloaded directly from EnnioMorricone.com." Similarly, Todd McCarthy wrote in Variety that the film's "dramatic package that it arrives in is so flimsy, unconvincing and poorly wrought that it's impossible to be swept away by the illustrated version of creationism on offer." In a hint of commendation though, he did note "Pictorially, the film is smooth and pristine looking. De Palma and his frequent cinematographer Stephen H. Burum go for their patented swooping and twisting camera moves whenever possible, and there are some very nice ones onboard the recovery ship." Also in negative sentiment, Lisa Schwarzbaum writing for Entertainment Weekly deduced that "Mission to Mars wants us to think about lofty things: the bravery of explorers, the ingenuity of our nation's space program, the humility required to comprehend the possibility that we earthlings are not the be-all and end-all of creation. But De Palma's film is too embarrassed, too jittery and self-conscious to hush up and pay attention."
Box office 
The film premiered in cinemas on March 10, 2000 in wide release throughout the U.S.. During its opening weekend, the film opened in first place grossing $22,855,247 in business showing at 3,054 locations. The film, The Ninth Gate came in second place during that weekend grossing $6,622,518. The film's revenue dropped by 50% in its second week of release, earning $11,385,709. For that particular weekend, the film fell to 2nd place screening in 3,060 theaters. Erin Brockovich, unseated Mission to Mars to open in first place grossing $28,138,465 in box office revenue. During its final weekend in release, it opened in a distant 72nd place with $17,467 in revenue. The film went on to top out domestically at $60,883,407 in total ticket sales through an 18-week theatrical run. The film took in an additional $50,100,000 in business through international release to top out at a combined $110,983,407 in gross revenue. For 2000 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 41.
Home media 
Following its cinematic release in theaters, the film was released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment in VHS video format on January 16, 2001. The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on June 4, 2002. Special features for the DVD include; Audio Commentary Animatics to Scene Comparison, Documentary "Visions of Mars", Visual Effects Analysis Production, Art Gallery, and DVD-ROM Features. Currently, there is a French version of the film in Blu-ray Disc format, and is available in other media formats such as Video on demand.
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