Fictional representations of Mars have been popular for over a century and with good reason. Apart from the beauty of the planet’s dramatic red colour, early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life have often inspired writers to take on either the possibility that Mars could be colonized by humans or would be incapable of sustaining human life – thus the idea that Martians would one day invade our planet. With the release of Andrew Stanton’s sweeping action-adventure John Carter (a film based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs and set on Mars), I’ve decided to list a few films which also revolve around the mysterious and exotic planet that might be worthy of your time.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
The premise for Total Recall, a film based on a Philip K. Dick short story ( ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”) is reason enough to take interest: Set in a futuristic society, it has become scientifically possible to implant faux memories into a person’s mind, while wiping away their previous identity, thus creating a fictitious persona in such that the subject believes he or she is someone else. While it can be argued that there is little effort here in developing some of the stories more complex science fiction elements, Paul Verhoeven’s wild direction, complete with breathtaking action sequences and top of the art special effects, makes Total Recall a superb sci-fi adventure. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger at his deadpan best, Sharon Stone (evil wife to Schwarzenegger), Michael Ironside the chief villain and Rachel Ticotin as Arnie’s Martian hybrid ass-kicking hooker/love interest. Visual-effects expert Rob Bottin proves his mad genius, whipping up the most extravagantly deranged and perverse creations of sexual effects – including a three breasted prostitute whom our protagonist encounters while racing through the planet’s red light district. Accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek strain of humour Total Recall moves at a fierce and unrelenting pace.
The original cut of the movie was given an X-rating by the MPAA for excessive violence. This movie is downright nasty for its time, a machine gun toting, gut-wrenching, head-exploding, gratuitously violent thrill ride with a body count that totals 77. Verhoeven said that Rob Bottin had made the Quatto puppet (a slithering, super-sentient lilliputian bulge ripping out of a man’s belly) look so real, that he was approached by 2 people on the street asking if he (Marshall Bell) was a “real freak” or possibly a semi-born Siamese twin. The film also features possibly the best score from legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith. And who doesn’t remember Johnny-cab whistling the Norwegian national anthem, or the down and dirty martial arts brawl between Stone and Ticotin – not to mention one of Schwarzenegger’s most famous one liners: “Consider that a divorce!” An absolute must see!
Directed by Byron Haskin
When released in 1964, Robinson Crusoe on Mars was seen as a clever science-fiction film tackling on many titillating questions about the planet Mars. Re-imagining Daniel Defoe’s literary classic, this low-budget flick went mostly unnoticed – ignored by the public, but received high praise from most film critics. Truth be told, today this underground classic is extremely dated and would bore most moviegoers, but there is still plenty of reason to take notice in this brilliant, albeit dry sci-fi film.
Crusoe on Mars is, if anything, a visually inspired adventure, shot in vivid Technicolor with a lively special-effects laden vision of what life on Mars is like. The beauty of this lies in Byron Haskin’s vision of the red planet – Mars is a jagged wasteland with giant fireballs that slowly roll across the red planet’s landscape and oddly shaped caves covered with psychedelic crystals. Just about every scene features an imaginative flourish of set decor. If you are seeking a good example of the visual touchstones of its genre, one could hardly find a better film than Robinson Crusoe on Mars.
The film stars Paul Mantee as our wannabe Chris Columbus, who sets out eager to discover the wonders of a new planet, and features a Buñuel-like-dream cameo in which he is visited by the late, great Adam West. Baptized with a unique vision of adroitness and serene surrealism, Robinson Crusoe might very well be an outdated, hokey piece of sci-fi, but it is an important film no less – a movie that pushed the boundaries of the genre, while realizing its limits and achieving wonders within them. No doubt it inspired a many filmmakers including he who directed a little film titled 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oh and it also features one of the greatest animal actors of all time, a totally rad space chimp named Wally.
Directed by Robert C. Ramirez
Adapted from the 1980 novel of the same name by Thomas Disch, The Brave Little Toaster premiered in 1987 at the Los Angeles International Animation Celebration and the following year it was shown at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival, where it garnering a Grand Jury Prize nomination. Though the prize went to Rob Nilsson’s Heat and Sunlight, it is said that the judges considered Toaster the best film of the festival, but felt if they gave the award to a cartoon, people wouldn’t take them seriously afterwards. Apart from this small piece of trivia, many of the original members of Pixar Animation Studios were involved with this film, including John Lasseter and Joe Ranft. In fact, some have argued that The Brave Little Toaster is a direct precursor to Toy Story.
The film received a limited theatrical release, but was extremely popular on home video and was followed by two sequels a decade later: The first titled The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. Aimed at a younger audience, this sequel features most of the original electrical appliances plus a few new friends, including Calculator (Stephen Toblowsky), Faucet (Farrah Fawcett), Ceiling Fan (Carol Channing) and Microwave (Wayne Knight). Without the nuance and immediate threat of the first film, the picture stands at best, as a hollow knock-off, looking solely to cash in. Still, Goes to Mars can be quite entertaining based on its zany sense of humour and strange subversive imager.
“Power to the appliances!”
Directed by David Lane
The 1966 British science-fiction film based on the popular television series of the same name is certainly one of the most unexpected products to emerge from the 1960s. Long before Matt Stone and Trey Parker brainstormed Team America, director David Lane was hard at work in developing new ways in which he could bring marionette puppets to life. One has to admire the extensive use of models and old-fashioned special effects, all hand-crafted, and long before the days of CGI.
With puppets in place of people, the show (produced by the husband/wife team of Gerry and Sylvia Andersen, known best for Space: 1999) lasted only two seasons, and spawned two feature films. This was one of them, and perhaps the better of the two.
The film is far from perfect, but Thunderbirds are Go! has a lot of things going for it. Call me crazy but the strangest element of the film, a dream sequence turned musical number is absolutely fabulous. Taking place in some outer-space-night-club, we are treated to a live performance of “Shooting Star” by popular UK crooner Cliff Richard backed by instrumental kings The Shadows, who all appear as marionettes. How could you not love acoustic guitars blasting away in outer-space and sexual sci-fi dreams of British musician marionettes, all blended into what is supposed to be a children film?
Sadly the film is painfully overlong. There are a number of excessive moments that seem to exist solely to pad out the running time. Take for instance the endless launch sequence with which kicks the movie off. Also remarkable is the plot – or lack of it. Thunderbirds Are Go! is a film much in need of a fan edit, as we can certainly trim away 20 or so minutes. Any takers?