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Film / Mission to Mars

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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.

The astronauts—commander Woody (Tim Robbins), Jim (Gary Sinise), Terri (Connie Nielsen), and Phil (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.

Not to be confused with Red Planet, which was released in the same year and depicts another fictional Mars mission.


This work features examples of:

  • And the Adventure Continues: Off he goes at the end.
  • Angelic Aliens: The Martian (possibly 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.
  • Avoid the Dreaded PG Rating: Averted; despite a sequence where the astronaut Nick is literally ripped apart by a powerful dust storm vortex, in all its bloody stumpage, the film still somehow got slapped with a family-friendly PG (although the film itself does not share that demographic).
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  • Benevolent Precursors: The Martians.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Continuous Decompression: After the micro-meteoroid storm hits the ship slowly decompresses until all the holes can be located and sealed.
  • Distress Call: Luke sends one.
  • 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.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: Poor Woody.
  • 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 Now: The movie takes place in 2020.
  • 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: If the grappling hook was a few feet longer, Woody would have made it.
  • I Choose to Stay: Jim
  • 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.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Much fun is had at the expense of a guy who refers to himself as a "Stick Jockey".
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Rather, Lonely Electric Guitar Piece: "A Heart Beats In Space".
  • Look Behind You: Done in a spooky way, TWICE!
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: A rating of 3. While the human spacecraft have plausible design, and the physics of the movie are generally OK, things go weird when we learn that we're of Martian descent and that they'd like to meet one of their long-lost cousins in a pre-prepared spaceship left on Mars, powered by lots of Applied Phlebotinum. The movie also has serious problems with thermodynamics, which has set many a physicist's teeth on edge (see the Space Is Cold entry below for specifics).
  • 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: Many instances.
  • Once-Green Mars
  • 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 aliens. 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.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: The alien building and spacecraft work fine and are sparkly clean despite millions of years.
  • 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 might have subverted 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Plenty of bangs, etc.
  • 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.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: This trailer could've avoided showing stuff about the reveals inside the Face on Mars.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The Flash Gordon necklace.

"Have a great ride, Jim."


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