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Wednesday November 15, 2000

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'Red Planet' bores with derivative sci-fi plot

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By Oliver White

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Weak, convoluted plot makes this film as barren as Mars

Making a movie is a long and difficult process, involving hundreds of hours of effort, millions of dollars, unsurpassed patience and, in the very beginning, a great idea.

"Red Planet," directed by Antony Hoffman, proves, however, that none of these characteristics were even necessary for the production of this film. In fact, the only real intellectual elbow grease present in "Red Planet" was the sneaky way it managed to steal ideas from nearly every sci-fi movie released since George Burns had dark hair.

The movie opens with the cheesy voice-over of Captain Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) outlining the plot of the movie - 50 years from now, Earth's stupid inhabitants have finally poisoned the planet so badly that they must leave to inhabit Mars. "Mission to Mars," by the way, had the same story line, as well as a better cast, and even it could not fake being a good movie.

Mars is Earth's greatest hope for survival. Its current atmosphere would be deadly for humans to breathe, but by releasing algae onto the red planet, a breathable level of oxygen may be created.

The plot is generally scientifically accurate and even interesting, but in order to create a blockbuster that would do well at theaters and not on the Discovery Channel, any sense of originality was seemingly cut clean out of it.

The first dj vu ("hey, that was in...") is roughly 20 minutes into the film, when Bowman climbs out of the shower to see "space janitor" Gallagher (Val Kilmer) wearing a very surprised look underneath his sunglasses - remember "Starship Troopers" shower scenes anyone?

After 20 more minutes of boring chatter, before the enormous ship that Bowman and her five-person crew travel in enters Mars's atmosphere, a massive solar flare strikes it, causing everyone, except for Bowman, to evacuate the dying vessel early - just like in "Apollo 13."

With the crew is AMEE, a robotic dog on loan from the Marines, designed to help the crew with various tasks. AMEE - called "Sweetie" by the crew - has a battle mode switch that can turn "Sweetie" into a killer on a moment's notice. AMEE is damaged in the crash and ends up on permanent battle mode trying to kill the crew once they try to put her down after her malfunction. Dj vu - AMEE is just a pathetic variation of good-computer-gone-bad Hal 9000 in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The rest of the film deals with the problems crew members encounter on Mars - including skin-eating alien bugs and lack of oxygen - as they try to discover why the algae they sent to the planet is not producing oxygen. "Red Planet" has far too many contrived plot devices to give it any coherence or dramatic tension - the audience is just left wanting to laugh at it.

With AMEE's predatory hunt and the creepy flesh eating bugs (think not only "Alien" but also "The Mummy"), the film reaches ultimate cheese, proving, once again, that nowadays marketing ploys are taken more into account when making movies than scripts.