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Film / Mission to Mars

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You may be looking for Red Planet, which released in the same year.

Mission to Mars is a 2000 science fiction film directed by Brian De Palma, depicting a mission to Mars that gets into trouble and the ensuing rescue mission. It was inspired by the Disney theme park attraction of the same name that closed eight years before the film was released.

The astronauts—commander Woody Blake (Tim Robbins), Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise), Terri Fisher (Connie Nielsen), and Phil Ohlmyer (Jerry O'Connell)—are sent to find out what happened to the first expedition to Mars which sent a garbled Distress Call. They encounter a lot of challenges, including some in flight turbulence... in space! Where they have to do a perilous EVA repair. Mars itself is a treacherous planet, and the survivors of the previous expedition are not what they expected.

This work features examples of:

  • Angelic Aliens: The Martian (a hologram) revealed at the end of the film, who remained behind to seed Earth with life when their race fled Mars after a meteor collision devastated the planet. They're tall, regal, feminine, and their dress and skin a strong orange in color, with Innocent Blue Eyes.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • Phil's DNA model spins on its own around a center of gravity - impossible considering each individual candy would be going in a circle around nothing.
    • When Terri furiously accelerates with her jetpack towards Woody but is told to not waste its fuel and end up stranded with him, she just stops in place with a few light puffs in the opposite direction, when realistically she would need to burst backwards for just as long and powerfully as her blastoff in order to stop.
  • Benevolent Precursors: The Martians, for seeding the Earth with life and leaving an artifact that will take one of their successors to their new home.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The crew gets to go home but Jim leaves on the ancient spacecraft to reach the Martians in their new home.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Inverted. In the initial tangle with the whatever-it-is on Mars, Luke (the black dude in question) is the only survivor.
  • Broken Ace: Jim. He and his wife Maggie were huge Mars enthusiasts and trained together for the first human mission until an illness took her life and crippled Jim's spirits to the point he got rejected from the program for refusing psych evaluations. In spite of that, Woody insists on having Jim as his co-pilot because he's still one of the best astronauts they got.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: The Mars missions each use a ship with a rotating habitat area for centrifugal gravity generation. The gang had a lot of fun dancing Zero-G style in the central hub! Apparently, the cockpit module also served as a lander and return vehicle, leaving the question of whether or not the cockpit would re-couple with the drive section possibly left in orbit or if the astronauts would spend the return voyage completely in zero gravity.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The comedic scene Phil making a DNA out of M&Ms in zero gravity later gives Jim a "Eureka!" Moment when he realizes the true meaning of the DNA with missing parts from the Face's signal after scattering some M&Ms on the floor. The movie beats the viewer over the head with it by going as far as to Flashback Cut to the earlier scene that foreshadowed it.
  • Collapsing Lair: The Face on Mars is torn down as Jim's ship departs.
  • Continuous Decompression: After the micro-meteoroid storm hits the ship slowly decompresses until all the holes can be located and sealed.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The fate shown of one of the crewmates on the Mars I voyage; he gets spun around so fast his head liquidates into bloodnote , then his body gets torn apart.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: It might be just a bad case of alien thinking, but murdering Luke's team over "sending the wrong answer" with a killer sand tornado instead of simply not doing anything and not letting them pass makes the Martians a bit less 'Benevolent' Precursors.
  • Distress Call: Luke sends one after the twister of the Face on Mars kills his whole crew leaving him stranded.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: Woody's corpse, after he kills himself via freezing in the vacuum of space.
  • Easily Forgiven: The protagonists including Luke never bring up the fact that the Martians, alien thinking or not, still caused the deaths of the innocent people of Mars I's team for assuming that their radar signal was an attempt of breaking in.
  • Exty Years from Publication: The movie came out in 2000 and takes place in 2020.
  • Foreshadowing: When Luke Graham is consoling his son, Bobby, he mentions that he is more than happy to read along with him in Treasure Island while he is on his mission, and is eager find out how Ben Gunn got marooned. Unfortunately, Graham ends up in pretty much the same situation, just on Mars instead of a desert island.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We’re spared seeing the fate of the first astronaut that gets sucked into the sentient vortex. The second one, on the other hand…
  • Heroic Suicide: Poor Woody takes off his helmet, rather than watch his wife make pointless attempts to save him and possibly doom herself at the same time.
  • Hope Spot: Terri's grappling hook turning out to be just a few feet away from Woody's grasp, much to her dismay.
  • I Choose to Stay: The Martians left a spacecraft that can take a future visitor to their new home. Jim salutes his companions and decides to boldly go himself.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Much fun is had at the expense of a guy who refers to himself as a "Stick Jockey".
  • I Want My Jet Pack: In 2020, man still hasn't stepped foot on Mars nor has NASA made the 2001-looking centrifugal gravity stuff a reality. Of course, since 2020 has come and gone, it makes it all Alternate History now.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Rather, Lonely Electric Guitar Piece: "A Heart Beats In Space".
  • Look Behind You: Done in a spooky way, TWICE!
  • Martians: The movie's Martians are tall, feminine, peaceful humanoids who left Mars to escape the havoc caused by a massive meteorite impact.
  • Mood Whiplash: Early on the heartwarming/funny banter between Woody, Luke and Jim comes to a screeching halt when the latter comments that his late wife Maggie would've loved to see them just one more time, and gets visibly emotional about it to the point he excuses himself out to go get another beer.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: While taking off on the Martian spacecraft, Jim sees a series of memory snippets, including some earlier scenes of the movie and the time spent with Maggie, which makes him smile in a "All my choices and life events brought me here" way.
  • Narrating the Obvious: The holographic sequence that shows the history of Mars and the birth of life on Earth could've been a pretty good piece of Silence Is Golden storytelling backed up by Ennio Morricone's A Martian... if it wasn't for Jim, Terri and Luke needing to chime in with acute observations such as: "That's where they went!", "Look, one stayed behind!", "They seeded Earth!" etc.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer focuses on the early line of "there might be water/life on Mars," but nothing in the trailer suggests that the A Plot would be a rescue mission.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Addressed by Terri when they discover that the temple hidden in the Face on Mars has breathable air and Jim opens up his space suit, before going "Aw, what the hell" and joining him.
  • No OSHA Compliance: While OSHA's jurisdiction over the Mars mission spacecraft and hab is debatable, the fact that there are many lapses in basic design safety aren't. Among the most glaring:
    • Computers that require atmosphere to work is a major safety fault. In the event of life support failure, the humans have enough trying to kill them — having their computers slowly going Daisy Bell on them sure isn't going to help anyone.
    • Not protecting critical propulsion hardware (not to mention fuel-carrying lines) at all. Whipple shields should've been guarding almost every square inch of the ship, as they do today with much of the ISS.
    • No crew refuge in the ship. Without pressure bulkheads, the ship's interior cannot be compartmentalized, which means any loss of pressure anywhere will (and does) affect the entire ship.
    • No systems or checks in place to monitor fuel flow rate and pressure for any transients that would indicate leakage, nor a flow-rate failsafe to shut down the fuel line.
    • No failsafe or alternate verification method to voiceprint. Jim leaves his helmet off while the bloody ship is depressurizing apparently because he has to tell the computer who he is to shut down the inertial gravity rotation. The computer should be able to accept this over a suit radio (except, of course, the computer was going hypoxic at the time), so that might not have worked either. A password would've sufficed if people were really paranoid about astronauts knocking the A/G offline for a prank.
  • Not Enough to Bury: Luke shows the grave site he made for his fallen crew explaining that he only found Renée's (the one who got the visor smashed by a rock) body and couldn't help but make two more human-sized mounds for the others he didn't find due to them being torn apart by the Face's killer vortex.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: Used throughout the score when the micro-meteorites damage Mars II causing an endangering decompression that complicates the crew's arrival to Mars.
  • Once-Green Mars: Mars used to be very Earth-like until a huge asteroid impact decimated its surface forcing the Martians to abandon it.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: The micro-meteor storm is heralded in when Phil gets one straight through his hand. This barely slows Phil the rest of the movie, whose hand seems to be in good enough condition to lug the sled across Mars and be trusted to launch and fly back to Earth by himself.
  • Precursors: The Martians. Subverted, the are actually Original Man... and everything else on Earth has Martian origins as well.
  • Product Placement: Notably for Dr. Pepper and M&Ms. Pennzoil seems to have sponsored the Mars buggy they travel in.
  • The Radio Dies First: The one bit of technology this universe can't seem to get right is any sort of communication with Earth.
  • Race Against the Clock: In the finale, the characters cracking and exploring the Face on Mars' secret have a limited time to do so as a massive martian dust storm is approaching and Phil is given orders to take off with the repaired ERV before the storm hits, with or without them. Luckily, no one is left behind, save for Jim.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: The Martian building and spacecraft work fine and are sparkly clean despite millions of years.
  • Reentry Scare: Woody sees reflected on his wrist mirror that a piece of equipment behind him burns up when it enters Mars' atmosphere, giving his Heroic Sacrifice a Better to Die than Be Killed angle to it.
  • Rule of Drama: Jim's excuse for not immediately getting a helmet when the ship is depressurizing is so there is danger involved. If he did put a helmet on the team could have taken their time on sealing the breach.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: The movie subverts the Black Dude Dies First rule by having Luke survive the Martian twister, but his poor teammate Sergei Kirov doesn't have such luck.
  • Sanity Slippage: The sole survivor of the Mars disaster, who had his entire crew perish in front of him and spent a whole year trapped on Mars alone. His reaction to seeing Jim is to scream "YOU CAN'T BE HERE!" and attack him, clearly thinking that he's finally lost his mind.
  • Secret Test of Character: The face was waiting for someone to put the missing pair of chromosomes in the Martian DNA. If it gets a wrong answer (such as the radar the Mars I crew scanned with), it triggers the vortex to defend itself.
  • Send in the Search Team: The second team is sent to find out what happened to the first one after they send out an S.O.S.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Mars II spacecraft resembles the Discovery, especially on the inside, and even has a talking computer. The black rectangular door inside the white and brightly lit interior of the Face on Mars also harken back to the Monolith and the final part of 2001, alongside the rotating wheel space station and the design of the spacesuit helmets.
    • The Martians being the precursors of humanity is similar to the subjects of Quatermass and the Pit.
    • The breathable liquid Jim gets submerged into inside the rocket that will take him to the Martians is reminiscent of the one seen in The Abyss.
  • Single Tear: From the holographic Martian.
  • Smurfette Principle: Both Mars missions have only one single female astronaut per crew (Renée in Luke's and Terri in the rescue team).
  • Space Is Cold:
    • Woody removes his helmet in vacuum to avoid dying from re-entry. His face is totally frozen before the helmet's even fully off.
    • Liquid fuel flash freezing as it leaks out into space, when in reality, it would flash boil from the lack of external pressure.
  • Space Is Noisy: Scenes set outside in the vacuum of space still have audible noises as if there was an atmosphere.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Despite the imminent pressure loss in the hull, Woody and Terri take time for cutesy goodbyes.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The first crew's reaction to the tornado monster thing that's pulverizing rock formations less than a hundred feet from them is to stand there staring in slack-jawed wonder instead of running like any sane person would. Sure enough, it ends up killing everyone but Luke, who at least uttered an "oh my god" upon seeing it.
    • To a lesser extent, since it proves to be safe, Luke, Terri and Jim immediately taking off their helmets inside the Face on Mars just because there's breathable air in it is very hazardous because they're still in an alien environment and could've exposed themselves to something nasty.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The Flash Gordon necklace.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: This trailer could've avoided showing stuff about the reveals inside the Face on Mars.
  • White Void Room: The inside of the Face on Mars mainly looks like this, though it also has a darker room with the holograms.

"Have a great ride, Jim."