Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Last Days on Mars

For F*** Magazine


Director: Ruairi Robinson
Cast:         Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen, Yusra Warsama
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time: 99 mins
Opens: 5 December 2013
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

Scientists, engineers and other experts managed to pull off the first moon landing in 1969, but in the intervening 44 years, a manned mission to Mars has yet to become a reality. We have however had no shortage of cinematic trips to the red planet, including the "duelling Mars movies" of 2000, Mission to Mars and Red Planet. Lynn Collins played a Martian princess in last year's John Carter and in this film, her X-Men Origins: Wolverine co-star Liev Schreiber gets to walk upon the crimson dust himself.

It is the final day of the Aurora 2's Martian expedition and the crew of astronauts, having grown testy after six months on the planet's surface, are preparing to hand off to the next crew and head home. Kim Aldrich (Williams) in particularly has become increasingly difficult to work with. Suddenly, scientist Marko Petrovic (Kostić) makes an unexpected, earth-shattering discovery: microscopic life on Mars in the form of bacteria. Petrovic falls into a fissure and Captain Charles Brunell (Koteas) and engineer Vincent Campbell (Schreiber) lead a rescue mission that goes south, resulting in the crew members getting infected by the bacteria one by one, creating an "every man for himself" situation. Vincent and Rebecca Lane (Garai) attempt to flee their colleagues-turned vicious foes, stuck upon an alien and inhospitable planet.

Medium-budget science fiction pictures are an interesting genre; the filmmakers behind such movies intending that their product be able to compete with high-gloss Hollywood films at a fraction of the cost. More often than not, audiences are able to spot the cracks. So, it is worth noting that The Last Days on Mars definitely has decent production values, the sets, costumes, visual effects and especially those nifty rover vehicles all quite believable. The film was partially shot on location in Jordan, which doesn't completely pass for Mars; the depiction most moviegoers are used to being redder and harsher than the expanses of desert on display in the film.

Unfortunately, while it looks alright, the film's limp story squanders the potential of its setting. It is very poorly paced and drags in many spots, and although it opens intriguingly enough, there is no element of mystery. What could have been thought-provoking and cleverly ambiguous instead quickly descends into a run of the mill horror flick, with the leads running from space zombies. There's nothing unique to the undead creatures and whenever they tussle with a character, the film kicks into full shaky-cam mode. It also seems that the plot was lifted wholesale from the Doctor Who special, The Waters of Mars.

We don't get a lot in the way of characterisation, but Liev Schreiber certainly is a competent leading man and does make a decent astronaut. Schreiber handles the moments in which Vincent is conflicted and turns emotional as well as the action beats. Romola Garai's Rebecca Lane is effectively vulnerable as the female lead but it does seem that both she and Vincent turn into "horror movie survivors" very fast. Elias Koteas is dependable as he usually is and Johnny Harris plays a sufficiently detestable self-centred character, but there's no standout acting moments and the most personal you're going to get is Vincent and Rebecca discussing how much of someone's personality remains after he has been infected with a zombie virus.

While some zombie movies begin with an alien pathogen arriving on earth by way of a meteorite making impact, this cuts out the middleman and has the astronauts infected directly. Even then, it's not a new idea and The Last Days on Mars is disappointing in how dull and conventional it turns out to be.

SUMMARY: Mars is not very interesting to look at, and neither is this ultimately generic sci-fi/horror offering.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

By Jedd Jong


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