The Martian Chronicles (miniseries)

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The Martian Chronicles
The Martian Chronicles (TV miniseries).jpg
Based onThe Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury
Screenplay byRichard Matheson
Directed byMichael Anderson
StarringRock Hudson
Roddy McDowall
Maria Schell
Composer(s)Stanley Myers
Country of originUnited States
United Kingdom
No. of episodes3 (list of episodes)
Producer(s)Milton Subotsky
Andrew Donally
Running time97 min each episode
(Without commercials)
Original release27 January –
29 January 1980

The Martian Chronicles is a television miniseries based on Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles[1] and dealing with the exploration of Mars and the inhabitants there. The series starred Rock Hudson, Darren McGavin, Bernadette Peters, Roddy McDowall, Fritz Weaver, Barry Morse, and Maria Schell. It was aired on NBC in January 1980 in three episodes with a total running time of just over four hours (nearly five hours on the DVD version). The series depicts Mars as having a "thin atmosphere" which humans can breathe with water-filled canals and desert-like vegetation. The miniseries was directed by Michael Anderson and written by Richard Matheson.[2][3]


The Expeditions[edit]

Episode 1, 27 January 1980

The first episode starts at the scene of Viking 1 unmanned probe landing on the surface of the planet Mars in July 1976. A narrator explains that the purpose of the probe is to determine whether Mars is inhabited. As the narrator is speaking, the viewer becomes aware that there are two viewpoints at NASA amongst the scientists who launched the probe: One group obviously believes Mars is uninhabited, the other is open to the possibility of indigenous life on the planet. Each has its convincing arguments, but ultimately the probe indicates that Mars does not harbour life. At the close of the scene the camera pans back to show a larger view of the probe's landing area, with what appears to be indigenous Martian settlements in the surrounding terrain, with the narrator noting that, "If the probe had landed just a few miles further on, things might have been different." Afterwards the opening credits roll.

The next scene places the viewer at the Kennedy Space Center in January 1999 when the first "Zeus I" manned spacecraft to Mars is carried into orbit by a Saturn V rocket. The Zeus project represents the beginning of a major effort by NASA and NATO to explore and eventually colonize the outer planets.

On Mars, Ylla (a Martian woman trapped in an unromantic marriage) dreams of the coming astronauts through telepathy. Her husband, though he pretends to deny the reality of the dreams, becomes bitterly jealous, sensing his wife's inchoate romantic feelings for one of the astronauts. He kills the two-man expedition, astronauts Nathaniel York and Bert Conover, as soon as they arrive. Mission control on Earth does not know the fate of the crew, and one of the senior astronauts Jeff Spender urges the project director Col. John Wilder to abandon the Zeus project because of concerns that Mars may already harbor life. Wilder (who has shepherded the project for ten years) refuses, among other things because he believes mankind might escape environmental pollution and war on Earth by colonizing Mars instead.

A second mission is launched and the "Zeus II" crew lands on Mars in April 2000. To their amazement the crew (astronauts Arthur Black, Sam Hinkston and David Lustig) discover that they have landed in a town that looks exactly like Green Bluff, Illinois. circa 1979. They are warmly greeted by close relatives and loved ones who all died years ago. In fact, the Martians use the memories of the astronauts to lure them into their old homes, where they are killed in the middle of the night.

A third mission, "Zeus III", lands on Mars in June 2001. It is commanded by Col. Wilder himself with five other astronauts (Spender, Parkhill, Briggs, Cook, McClure) as subordinates. The crew discovers five ancient cities in the vicinity of the spacecraft, one of which apparently was inhabited only a few weeks ago. The scientists find that all of the Martians have died of chickenpox accidentally brought from Earth by the first two Zeus crews. The men, except for the archaeologist Spender and Colonel Wilder, become more boisterous. Spender loses his temper when Briggs starts dropping empty wine bottles into a clear blue canal. He knocks him into the canal. He leaves the rest of the landing party to explore Martian ruins. Spender (who always has had deep misgivings about the mission) then goes on a killing spree to avenge the destroyed Martian civilization and manages to shoot all astronauts except Parkhill and Wilder, who shoots Spender in the chest before he has the opportunity to kill them as well.

The Settlers[edit]

Episode 2, 28 January 1980

In the second episode, Wilder returns to the Red Planet in February 2004 with an entire fleet of spaceships, having been appointed director of the American colonization of Mars. In six months, a dozen communities are laid down. These sites, named after the Zeus mission astronauts, include: "York Plain," "Blackville," "Wilder Mountain," "Spender Hill," "Briggs Canal," and "Lustig Creek." The colonies grow rapidly over the next two years with varying amounts of success, as the colonists bring the vices of Earth (greed, corruption, bureaucracy) with them.

In September 2006, the Martian colonists start to encounter strange phenomena. David Lustig, presumed dead six years ago with the rest of Earth's Second Expedition to Mars, returns to his parents in Lustig Creek. Peculiarly, he expresses an intense aversion to visiting First Town, the chief colony on Mars. When forced to visit by his parents anyway, he suddenly goes missing. At the same time, a group of missionaries, called Father Peregrine and Father Stone, is rescued from a landslide by a group of mysterious lights who claim to be the "Old Ones." They claim themselves to be non-corporeal Martians from over 250 million years ago who live in the hills, supposedly among God. Father Peregrine later sees a vision of Jesus Christ in his church in First Town, but the vision requests him to go away with words "I am not what I seem! I am not that vision!" With the Martian's insistence, Peregrine concludes that the vision is actually Martian who involuntarily appears as anybody other people have in mind: David Lustig, Jesus, or anybody else. Once chased by Colonel Wilder and other settlers, the Martian is surrounded by the residents of First Town. Under telepathic pressure to fulfill these multiple roles simultaneously, he dies and his body disappears. Meanwhile, nuclear war is imminent on Earth. Congress cuts the budget for space exploration, all flights to Mars are canceled, and the colony is evacuated.

The final scene of the episode focuses on Sam Parkhill, the only survivor, apart from Wilder, of the third Zeus mission. He has opened a hamburger bar on Mars with his wife, intending to serve future truckers. A lone Martian suddenly walks in, prompting Parkhill to panic and shoot him. Suddenly, numerous Martians appear in sand ships. Parkhill takes his wife to his very own sand ship and flees. The Martians catch up after Parkhill has shot a number of them, giving Parkhill a land grant to half of Mars and a message: "The night is tonight." Unfortunately, the fleet of ten thousand rockets filled with one hundred thousand "hungry customers" would not be coming that night to patronize his restaurant, as instead the nuclear war destroyed Earth in one fell swoop.

The Martians[edit]

Episode 3, 29 January 1980

As established at the end of the second episode, Mars was evacuated shortly before a worldwide nuclear war terminated all life on Earth. Wilder travels back to Earth in November 2006 in the hope he can rescue his brother and his family. He returns to the Zeus project mission control facility but discovers a video recording the deaths of everyone, including his brother, when enemy neutron bombs detonated nearby.

Only a few scattered humans remain on Mars. One of them is Benjamin Driscoll, the lone inhabitant of First Town. He walks around the town, which has remarkably more graffiti and litter than Episode 2, when a telephone rings. After multiple telephones ring, he realizes his opportunity for companionship. Breaking into a home for yet another missed call, Driscoll sits down with a phone book of Mars and starts dialing at A. After days of calling without answers, he starts calling hotels. After guessing where he thinks a woman would most likely spend her time, he calls the biggest beauty salon on Mars, in New Texas City. When a woman answers, he flies 1,500 miles to New Texas City to meet Genevieve Selsor. She turns out to be thoroughly narcissistic and entirely obsessed with her own good looks. Driscoll asks her out on a date, during which she reveals that she decided to stay behind simply because "they wouldn't let me take all my clothes with me back to Earth." She enjoys having access to all the clothes, makeup, footwear, and so forth in New Texas City without having to pay for anything. At the same time, she also laments that she has to do all the cooking and technical maintenance herself. Disappointed, Driscoll runs away when she rejects his advances but still expects him to make a nice breakfast while repairing her sauna. This is a significant departure from the 1950 short story, "Silent Towns." Although the male character is the same, other than going by the name Walter Gripp, Genevieve Selsor is significantly different. Genevieve is not self-absorbed and expectant of Driscoll's labor. Instead, she is overweight and sticky with chocolate and desires to watch movies. Furthermore, she is supposedly too expectant and clingy, as she shows Gripp her ideal wedding dress. Although Genevieve varies significantly in the two stories, they have the same end result: Driscoll leaving for isolation yet again.

Meanwhile, Peter Hathaway is living retired on Mars with his wife, Alice, and daughter, Margarite. Hathaway's actions, revolving completely around pretending they are not alone, make his desire for a return to Earth very clear. For example, as a mechanical tinkerer, Hathaway wired an abandoned town below his house to sound alive at night with noise and phone calls. At night, when Hathway sights a rocket in orbit, and he puts on a laser light show to signal the rocket. After his initial failed attempt, the rocket returns to land. The rocket carries Father Stone and Colonel Wilder, who have returned from Earth. They reunite with Hathaway, who is troubled by his heart when they break the news of Earth's nuclear destruction. Undeterred, Hathaway brings the crew to his house for breakfast. Wilder remarks that Hathaway's wife's appearance has not changed since he last saw her, when he was present at their wedding. Wilder then explores the surrounding area, checking headstones that he saw earlier. He returns, pale, realizing that Hathaway's wife and daughter before them died in July 2000 from an unknown virus.

The Hathaways give Wilder and Father Stone a toast, at which point Peter Hathaway's heart fails. As he dies, he begs Wilder not to call his family because they "would not understand." Wilder then confirms that Alice and Margarite were made by Peter Hathaway. The robot family continues on with its meaningless daily life, alone. Ben Driscoll lands shortly after the rocket has departed. The Hathaway robots appear relieved when Driscoll decides to stay with them.

In March 2007, Wilder visits Sam Parkhill again to inform him that the Earth now is destroyed and Mars is all they have left. Parkhill tells him about the "land grant" that he received from the Martians. Wilder suspects that the Martians were aware of the coming war. He comes to the conclusion that the Martians desired to give the other half of their own desolate planet away to the survivors of the Earth colony, such that each surviving civilization could develop once more.

Finally, Wilder meets a Martian. Each sees the Mars he is accustomed to: Wilder sees ruins, while the Martian argues the presence of a festival. The other person is transparent to him and has the appearance of a phantom. Neither knows if he precedes the other in time, as they each argue that the other resides far in the past. The point here is that any one civilization is ultimately fleeting. Wilder then takes his family into the ruins of a Martian city, saying that they will live there and learn the Martian way. The first night, he burns the copies of "Capital" and "The Wealth of Nations." After promising his family the sight of real Martians, he points into a pool of water at the family's reflection to state, "Those are the Martians", thus indicating that the humans will be the new citizens of Mars. Finally, he pushes a button on his remote control to blow up the last remaining rocketship which could return them to Earth.




The screenplay by Richard Matheson deviates significantly from the plot of the original novel.


The series was filmed on the Mediterranean island of Malta and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.


In 2002, the Airstrip One Company in association with MGM Music, released a 3000 copy, limited edition 36 track soundtrack CD of the original Stanley Myers score recorded in 1979. This release, still available from rare Film & TV soundtrack specialists, includes a comprehensive 18 page full colour and fully illustrated booklet which details various aspects of the making of this mini-series. The catalogue number of this CD is AOD 003. The CD comprises the full miniseries soundtrack, with a notable exception: the track the Silver Locusts is shorter than the version that was aired. Also, the soundtrack is missing a few incidental electronic music passages. This omission is acknowledged in the CD liner notes which indicate that additional electronic music by Richard Harvey has not been included in the soundtrack.


Ray Bradbury described the miniseries as "just boring".[4]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Bradbury, Ray (1985) [1950]. The Martian Chronicles (Doubleday Orig. ed.). New York City: Bantam Spectra. ASIN B004VWH3KI.
  2. ^ Miller, Thomas Kent (2016). Mars in the Movies: A History (1st ed.). New York City: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786499144.
  3. ^ Cengage Learning Gale (2017). A Study Guide for "Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature". Boston: Study Guides Gale (Cengage). ISBN 978-1375387491.
  4. ^ Weller 2005, pp. 301–302.


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