Mission to Mars

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Director Brian DePalma is known for movies that have two qualities — striking visual flair and frustrating narrative incoherence. If you are the kind of person who talks about the plot on the way home, this is not your kind of movie. But if you would enjoy seeing an old-time “Flash Gordon”-style movie with 21st Century special effects and computer graphics, you just might want to see it twice.

The movie takes place in 2020. Don Cheadle plays an astronaut who leads a team to Mars to investigate the possiblity of colonization. But on an expedition a huge tunnel-like dust storm kills the rest of the team, and communication with the space station is cut off. Four of his colleages, played by Tim Robbins, Jerry O’Connell, Gary Sinese, and Connie Nielson, go on a rescue mission.

Trust me, that’s really all you want to know about the plot, which makes “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” seem like rocket science. It even makes “The Day the Earth Stood Still” look like rocket science. But the pictures are pretty.

Parents should know that characters are in peril and there are a number of tense moments and several deaths, one graphic. Creationists will also be upset by the way the plot develops.

Families who watch the movie will want to talk about the choices made by the characters, including one who commits suicide to save the lives of others, and about the prospects of space exploration and colonization. And it is worth pointing out to kids who watch today that they are the same age as the characters in the movie, who would have been children back in the year 2000. Point out the brief home movie footage showing two of the characters circa 2000, around 11 years old, and already dreaming of going to Mars, and ask kids what their dreams are, and help them think about what they will need in order to get there.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy “2001,” and might even get a kick out of the first big-budget outer space film, “Forbidden Planet,” with Leslie Nielson long before “Naked Gun.”

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Science-Fiction

Godzilla

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The classic Japanese monster film has been updated by the team that produced and directed “Stargate” and “Independence Day,” and what we get is basically “Jurassic Park” with one very, very big dinosaur. Nuclear testing has resulted in the mutation of a fish-loving lizard who seeks out Manhattan as an ideal place for him to lay eggs (he is a self- reproducing hemaphrodite). Godzilla roars around knocking down buildings, bespectacled scientist Nick Tatapolous (Matthew Broderick) works with the US Army and a mysterious group of Frenchmen to try to stop him, and Audrey (Maria Petillo), the girl who broke Nick’s heart in college, tries to break into the broadcast reporting big leagues by getting the inside story.

On the scariness scale, this one fits in at around the “Jurassic Park” level, with a few jump-out-at-you surprises and some tense moments. The special effects are state-of-the art, but not particularly innovative. There are some striking visuals and a few clever plot turns. But the movie sorely misses the quirky charm of “Independence Day’s” Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum and the story never captures the heart. As far as I am concerned, the real special effect in this movie is the way they managed to make it appear that Manhattan was evacuated almost instantaneously.

Parents should know that younger kids aware of India’s recent nuclear testing may be concerned that real mutations could be occuring. Some kids may be confused because at times, Godzilla is presented sympathetically, especially as he/she shows protective fury in finding her babies have been killed. Parents of older kids may want to talk with them about why it was important to Phillippe (Jean Reno) to take responsibility for Godzilla and why it was wrong for Audrey to betray Nick’s trust.

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Fantasy Remake Science-Fiction
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