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Sunday, October 10, 2021

Movie Review • The Last Days on Mars


I’ll save you some time. If this one shows up on the recommended list while you’re scrolling through Amazon searching for a good sci-fi movie to watch, just keep scrolling. To condense this review to one word: avoid.

Sure, the movie looks promising. It stars Liev Schreiber, who has been in some good things, and has an international cast. It’s beautifully photographed. They spent serious money on the sets, costumes, and props. It’s only 98 minutes long.

By the end of it, though, it will have seemed much longer, and you’ll be wondering where you can apply to get that hour and a half of your life back. 

The opening setup seems promising. It’s in the closing days of a six-month expedition to Mars. (Hence the title.) The expedition has been frustratingly unproductive, and there’s a lot of tension and hostility between the members of the team. For a while it looks like this is going to be some kind of atmospheric drama about people who can’t escape each other living in a pressure-cooker microcosm and cracking up under the strain.

Sidebar: One technical point worth noting here, with a little admiration, is that the backstory is that an Earth-Mars cycler system has been established. They can’t leave Mars until the orbiting platform returns and drops a new lander with the resupply crew. This is interesting at first, but the more Schreiber’s character has nightmares/premonitions about not being able to make it back to the orbiter, the more you begin to feel that you’re being clubbed over the head with foreshadowing.

Anyway, with all of that established: as the days tick down and the pressure builds, the obligatory Crazy Russian on the team breaks the rules, defies orders, and takes one last trip to one of the dig sites to take one more core sample, and lo and behold, he at last discovers life on Mars! In the form of a mysterious bacterium, which he quickly discovers, turns people into—


Yeah, frickin’ zombies. They’ve spent all this time and money and effort and character-building up front, just to turn it into another frickin’ zombie movie. Imagine Aliens mashed up with—well, pretty much any standard-issue by-the-numbers completely imagination-free zombie movie and that’s what you’ve got. They’ve taken the time and trouble to make a movie that actually looks as if it was filmed on goddam Mars, and then turned it into a formulaic zombie movie that could have been made on any suitably dusty location in the American Southwest. 

Hint to writers: if you’re going to take your characters to Mars, have them find something more interesting to do there than to turn into either zombies or zombie chow.

Yes, of course, Liev Schreiber’s character ends up being the sole survivor. Yes, of course, when the lander finally shows up the zombies surprise and overwhelm the relief crew. Yes, of course, Schreiber manages to escape the zombies and take the lander back up into orbit—but too late, he’s missed the rendezvous with the orbiter, and doesn’t have enough fuel left to make a safe landing. But that doesn’t matter anyway, as he realizes that he’s been exposed to the bacteria and is probably infected as well. He delivers one last monologue, in the form of a last message to Mission Control that seems cribbed from Ripley’s last message at the end of Alien, and then…

Roll credits.

In short, this movie begins with some promise, then turns into a paint-by-numbers zombie movie, and then everyone dies. The end. What a waste. 

—Bruce Bethke


Chuck Robertson said...

Zombies on Mars? I am always looking for good Science Fiction movies. There aren't many really good ones out there. If they are going through all the trouble of making a SF movie, why can't they come up with something more original.

Mr. Naron said...

The sequel is better. Still a zombie outbreak, but set in a more interesting place, where few people are willing and able to go: a movie theater showing this film.