Mission To Mars

Mission To Mars (1999)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Jerry O’Connell
Extras: Commentary Track, Special Effects Documentary, Art Gallery, Special Effects Analysis, Theatrical Tra

Over the past year, Buena Vista has been improving the quality of their DVD product and ’Mission to Mars’ is a perfect example of that evolution. The DVD features an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film, which is absolutely beautiful. The image is letterboxed at 2.35:1, and appears to be accurately framed. The digital transfer has rendered the image crisp and clear, showing no defects in the source print. Also, the image shows no noise, artifacting, or grain. This transfer boasts a rich color palette, as the film goes from a lush backyard in Texas to the red wastelands of Mars without missing a beat. The blackness of space comes across especially nice, as it is juxtaposed with the whiteness of the spaceship. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix, which is simply delightful. As with other recent Buena Vista releases, the audio on ’Mission to Mars’ gives us a rich sound-field in which the on-screen action is accurately reflected in the speakers. The audio has a good dynamic range with plentiful surround sound action and deep bass tones. Overall, this is an above average presentation.

The ’Mission to Mars’ DVD offers an audio commentary featuring Director of Photography Stephen H. Burum, Visual Effects Supervisors John Knoll and Hoyt Yeatman, and Production Designer Ed Verreaux. This commentary is strictly technical as the quartet discusses the look of the film and how the special effects were achieved. The four are quite chatty and give a great deal of insight into how the FX teams must all work together. There is a behind-the-scenes documentary that focuses solely on the film’s special effects and all of the work that went into creating them, as well as three scenes from the film which are analyzed by the special effects artists. A production art gallery, which offers a look at many alternative special effects which didn’t make it into the film is also part of the disc, as is a look at ’Animatics’, which are basically animated storyboards, which were used to get a first feel for the look of the film. The animatics to scene comparison is actually one of the best features of the disc.

As for the film itself… well, it’s not the worst movie ever made, as some critics have labeled it, but it’s pretty bad nonetheless. ’Mission to Mars’ is set in the year 2020, where we find Luke (Don Cheadle) taking a team of astronauts to the Red Planet. When communication is lost, a rescue team made up of Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Jerry O’Connell, and Connie Nielsen head to Mars to find out what happened to Luke and his crew. Despite the fact that ’Mission to Mars’ has all of the trappings of a ’disaster in space’ film, there is no tension or suspense. At times, I felt as if I was watching a film that hadn’t been finished. Brian De Palma displays none of his usual directing strengths and Ennio Morricone’s score always feels out of place. The second hour of the film is a little better than the nearly unwatchable first hour, but that’s like comparing a bullet wound to a stab wound. You’d be better off sticking with De Palma’s other movie that begins with the word ’Mission’.