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Film / Red Planet

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You may be looking for Mission to Mars, which released in the same year.

Red Planet is a 2000 Science Fiction film directed by Antony Hoffman and starring Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Terence Stamp, and a robot with a bad case of multiple personality disorder.

It's basically an The End of the World as We Know It story with a twist. In the year 2056 AD, Earth is facing severe ecological crisis. Missions have been seeding Mars with atmosphere-producing algae for twenty years as the first stage in terraforming the planet. When the oxygen quantity produced by the algae is inexplicably reduced, the crew of Mars-1 is sent to investigate.

Provides Examples Of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • Justified with AMEE (Autonomous Mapping Exploration and Evasion). It's not really her fault, however—she's a military robot with combat reflexes that the military apparently just put an (easily bypassed) software lockout on when they handed her over for a civilian mission. She reverts to her baseline programming, when the astronauts openly discuss turning her off and cannibalising her to build a radio, forcing her to fight for her own survival. Once the military program is back on-line, there is no longer any way to reset her to "peaceful" mode.
    • Completely averted with Lucy, the AI interface aboard the ship, who is almost maternally cautious about protecting the crew.
  • All There in the Manual: Only Santen's first name is mentioned in the film. All the rest are to be found in the DVD extras.
  • Almighty Janitor: While Gallagher is "mechanical systems engineer", everyone calls him janitor. More or less his job in the mission is a form of advanced space janitor and he's the one with superb engineering skills in the landing crew.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: At some points. This is what fuels the Race Against the Clock drama for the people on Mars' surface in the first act and Gallagher's suit is pretty much on fumes during the whole ride up to orbit (leading to some CPR drama from Bowman when she retrieves him).
  • Artistic License Biology: The explanation of the bugs and how they function. Also, they're called "nematodes" even though they're clearly insects. Nematodes are unsegmented worms in Real Life.
  • Artistic License Space: Zig-Zagged. The film shows that someone clearly put an extra effort to get various scientific aspects right. However, there is still a lot of tiny, trivial mistakes, often directly between elements done right. For example, when Bowman restores Centrifugal Gravity (which itself is done plausibly), it cause all the objects to instantly fall to the ground, rather than slowly drift to the nearest wall and then "stick" to it. For a full and detailed list of what's wrong with this movie, see the Bad Astronomy article (warning: spoilers).
  • Asshole Victim: Santen. The man was a complete macho jackass that refused to be humble to the end and insulted Petengill at a very bad time, leading to a brawl and accidental dropping off a cliff. Petengill spends the rest of the movie more afraid of what the other guys will do if they start suspecting he tossed Santen deliberately than the fact he killed a man.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Sure, bring a combat robot on a mission of science. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Gallagher is swarmed by the nematoads, who see him as a food source. Rather than be eaten, he chooses to drop a torch to blow them up along with himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The world is saved. Too bad about all the dead astronauts, two of whom were killed by the world-saving bugs.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: The main space ship seems to have this. In a very rare example of Shown Their Work, the two rotating arms it has are not just there for luxury but are actually counter-rotating each other, to prevent course issues from all the torque going in a single way.
  • Chekhov's Gun: All over the place, from Rob's tinkering to AMEE's modes and strange personality traits in the crew.
  • Chemistry Can Do Anything: The algae stuff. Which is more than plausible, both within the setting and in Real Life.
  • Collapsible Helmet: Suits used by landing crew are equipped with those.
  • Continue Your Mission, Dammit!: Chantilas says this, in fact many of the characters say this rather a lot.
  • Disney Villain Death: Ted Santen is thrown off of a cliff by Skip Pentengill during a fight.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Even stabilising a cracked rib.
  • Dying Alone: Chantilas, so much. Also Gallagher is afraid of doing so in the end.
  • Eaten Alive: Defied. Poor Quinn decides to go out with a bang instead of letting the bugs finish him off slowly and painfully.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: AMEE is chasing Pettengill. He knows that way too much. But he doesn't know from where to expect her until last moment, when he turns right toward her during attack.
  • Exact Time to Failure: Mars-1 is in a decaying orbit and Kate is using fuel meant for return trip to slow down the decay. It's stated early on that if she won't start journey back to Earth in 36 hours, she simply won't have enough fuel to do so. Then we got the astronauts trapped on Mars with no supplies. Not only they will be abandoned if they don't reach the probe on time, but soon after, they will die from dehydration, thus making the whole plot a Race Against the Clock.
  • Flipping the Bird: Gallagher is flipping one toward the whole planet.
  • Forced to Watch:
    • Inverted. When Gallagher's air supply runs out, he starts to suffocate right in front of Burchenal and Pettengill, who will soon run out of air too. They try not to watch, but they can still hear Gallagher, as they can't block the com-link with him.
    • AMEE, which had been blocking her camera feed to prevent the astronauts from knowing where she is from the moment she went into combat mode, turns the feed back on so Gallagher and Burchenal can have a first-person view of how she beats Pettengill to death.
  • Foreshadowing: Burchenal says that sooner or later he will find out what happened to the algae. He did, in very unpleasant way.
  • Fragile Speedster: AMEE the Robot is tough, but she clearly struggles against strong wind if she's not careful, forcing her to anchor in the ground to even stop slipping.
  • Gaia's Lament: By all accounts, Earth of 2056 AD. At one point it's mentioned most of amphibians are dead, simply because the environment is too toxic to support them.
  • Gender Is No Object: Kate Bowman, mission's commanding officer and captain of the ship. No-one ever questions her position because of being a woman. Not even Santen.
  • Ghost Planet: Mars obviously, though part of the mystery is where all the algae they shot there disappeared to.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Quinn lights himself and the bugs and the algae on fire so they won't eat Rob, allowing Rob to escape to the shuttle.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Burchenal, in the ignorant scientist flavor. He's a jerk, and unable to give any good reason to support atheism in debate with the others.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Chantilas, after suffering significant internal injuries early on.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted. Lights are placed on the suit, not inside helmets.
  • Jerkass: Both Santen and Pettengill, with escalating conflict between them.
  • Just a Machine: Though never directly stated, it's obvious that the human characters regard AMEE as this when the surviving crew members start casually discussing plans to disassemble her and use her parts (effectively killing her) to build the communication device they need to contact their ship in orbit. Unfortunately, AMEE is standing right beside them and hears the entire conversation, which is what prompts her to go rogue.
  • Karmic Death: Some may see Pentengill's death at the hands of AMEE as this, seeing as he (accidentally) caused Santen's death and then lied about it.
  • Kill It with Fire: The bugs. AMEE too.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Pettengill's death. Santen's too for that matter.
  • MacGyvering: Rob's gadgeteering saves his life throughout the movie.
  • Macho Macho Man: Santen. One could wonder how he became second-in-command with all his quirks.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Actually, Meaningful Foreground Event. If you look very closely in one of the earlier scenes, you can see one of the bugs in the foreground as the camera pans across the landscape.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: The classic arrangement for three stars. Val Kilmer is first-billed and his face is centered in the poster, causing everyone's name to appear one head to the left of their face.
  • Mission Control: Houston is literal one for the mission. Kate became one for rest of the astronauts.
  • Mr. Exposition: Chantilas. Burchenal also got his moments.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Kate Bowman is as attractive as she is decisive. She's also shown in a shower and naked from the side afterward.
  • Murderous Malfunctioning Machine: Justified. AMEE is a military robot with full combat programming and an autonomous AI on-board, on loan to NASA because she is also a superb tracker and generally useful as an autonomous scout. Unfortunately, her processor is damaged in the crash and swaps over to killbot mode when she put in what "she" perceives as a lethal danger. As a result, she spends rest of the film fighting against the astronauts, who were planning to turn her off for good to cannibalise her battery and mapping device rather than wait for her to crash.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Well, some of the crew feel this way towards the rest of humanity.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If Dirty Coward Pentengill had simply believed Quinn and Rob—after finding out the shuttle that could get them to the one above can only physically fit two people instead of three and Rob volunteered to stay behind and die on Mars—then he probably would have lived to board the shuttle. Instead, he panics, waits until they fall asleep, steals the directions, and tries to run there first to save himself. This puts him in AMEE's path and she murders him violently as Quinn and Rob watch in horror. But his death now assures there's no longer a conflict about who is going and who is staying behind.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Invoked in-universe. Kate is not afraid of dying - what really scares her is that she might travel back to Earth alone. For half a year.
  • Orifice Invasion: One of the dead astronauts gets this treatment with the bugs. The Squick level is astronomical.
  • Pillar of Light: Each suit got strange, green light on it. It's purpose becomes obvious when Pettengill is killed and the only way to find his body (and radio) is finding a light beacon coming from his suit.
  • Precision F-Strike: Gallagher delivers a positively epic one before leaving Mars via the Kosmos probe.
    Gallagher: FUCK THIS PLANET!!!
  • Product Placement: But done in very tactful way. Many viewers don't notice it, not even after watching the film few times.
  • Psychological Horror:
    • Much of the horror elements of the film is due to the thought of being abandoned on Mars while running out of oxygen. The killer robot plot doesn't kick in until after the halfway mark in the movie.
    • In-universe, AMEE is programmed to employ psychological horror tactics.
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: After their hard landing, the Mars team spends most of the first act trying to get to the Mars habitat, which has enough supplies to last them for years (enough to wait rescue) as well as being built to withstand Class-5 tornadoes. The oxygen-producing insects ate it all, leaving behind only some structural supports. They arrive with only half an hour or so of oxygen left on their suits and spend that time sitting around the wreckage waiting to die — and nearly suffocate before accidentally finding out that the atmosphere is breathable.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Commander Kate Bowman, the lone astronaut on a stricken interplanetary spacecraft. Thankfully, her ship's AI is less insane.
    • During the scene where AMEE skulks about, looking for the crew, the same music is played as in Pitch Black when Riddick leads the survivors of a ship crash across a barren planet. The music was done by the same guy - Graeme Revell.
    • The Mars Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner rover not only appear but are also critical to the plot. The Russian Mars probe may also be a subtle Take That! to Russia's less than stellar record with Mars missions.
    • The MEV lander also uses the airbag system used by Pathfinder and the later Mars Exploration Rovers.
    • Look closely at the giant space station in the intro. It's an expanded version of the real life International Space Station.
    • It's not the first time that actress Carrie-Anne Moss has to whip a misbehaving machine to keep it from killing her and her crew.
  • Shown Their Work: While there are quite a few science and physics gaffes, things such as counter-spinning artificial gravity rings for the ship are signs of better-than average technical consulting. There's also the time delay between Earth to Mars communications that's used to dramatic advantage.
  • Starship Luxurious: "Mars-1" is meant to be the most top-of-the-line ship made by mankind so far... and it actually looks it.
  • Straw Character:
    • Burchenal is a strawman atheist geneticist who offers no coherent support for his disbelief when debating with other characters.
    • On the other side of the equation is the faith-espousing Chantilas, who equally can offer no coherent support for his stance in the discussion.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: AMEE is pretty deadly for a scouting robot, isn't she? She was originally a military scouting robot; pretty much all of her lethality is the result of being build for combat.
  • Token Religious Teammate: Chantilas is the only one in the team who talks about his religious faith and he does it constantly.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Quite a bit between Kate and Rob. The movie's last words imply that such tension will be fixed on the return home.