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I couldn't help thinking about that anecdote as I watched 2000's Mission to Mars, a movie so utterly anonymous it might as well have been scrawled on a bathroom wall. It certainly seems that De Palma hasn't changed nearly as much as his films have, because his boredom with the film's big set-pieces and special effects bleeds into every frame.
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This is the first plot of the movie. Here we're asked to get invested in the mystery of the "face" on Mars and all of its CGI shenanigans. This plot ranged from mildly interesting at best, to eye-rollingly silly at worst.
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This quartet's trip to Mars is, by a very wide margin, the most compelling part of the film. Once the film focuses on the very real dangers faced by any travel across our solar system it finally gets some life to it. A shower of tiny asteroids damages the ship, and the crew must go to great lengths to repair their vessel and secure a safe landing on the planet's surface. Here the special effects don't over-reach themselves, the trials and solutions all seem broadly plausible, and so real tension is generated by their plight.
This sequence could have been much better however, if it had been its own movie. It's very hard to get invested in what is largely a very realistic portrayal of near-future space travel after we've already paid a visit to the goofiness on the surface of Mars. These scenes simply don't belong to the same reality.
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There's simply no way to close this discussion without remaking upon the product placement in this film. It is, quite frankly, as blatant and disgusting as any I've ever been witness to. At one point, I kid you not, the lives of the entire crew are saved by a package of Dr. Pepper. Afterwards, the soda's package spins lazily in the zero gravity in a shot that begs for a voice-over extolling the drink's virtues. Later, the key to unraveling the mysteries of the Martian surface is a package of M&M's, which we're told one astronaut considers an absolute necessity wherever he goes. Suddenly it's all so clear. What was Mission to Mars about? It was about getting paid.