Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Last Days On Mars

Sci-fi films which concern themselves with the exploration of space (as opposed to merely being set in space) are far and few between, with Prometheus being the most recent incarnation. And yet, just like buses in London, after a long wait, three of them have just left the depot (or should it be the space station?). While we are waiting for the piece of resistance later in the year, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, as an appetiser, two low-budget films have just been released, The Last Days On Mars and Europa Report.

The Last Days On Mars piqued my interest last year due to its inclusion in the Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival (which rarely ever includes that genre in its line-up), as well as its quality and eclectic cast: Olivia Williams, Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai... Sadly I should not have got my hopes too high.

The main problem with the film is its overfamiliar premise, which has been seen literally a million times before: scientists discover a new life form on another planet, said life form infect scientists, turn them into crazed zombies. In fact, he script is nearly a carbon copy of that Doctor Who episode: The Waters of Mars. The mind wanders as to why the green light has been given to such an unoriginal project, especially considering that the BFI injected some funds into it.

We are clearly in B-movie territory, with flashes of gore and wafer-thin characters (only Olivia Williams and Liev Schreiber (whose mumbling is getting worse and worse) give some sort of depth to their characters). But sadly, despite the story being reminiscent of that other recent zombie on mars film, John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars, it has none of its old-school trashy fun and Hawks-inspired claustrophobic atmosphere. Even something as poor as Lost In Space had some fun with the whole alien infection concept, turning Gary Oldman into some kind of spider-person thanks to some rubbish CGI. Here the desiccated infected are unoriginal in their design.

As for the Jordan's desert passing for Mars, it is not terribly convincing. And the downside of not using studio sets is that the recreation of the different gravity on the red planet is impossible, so here the director did not even bother. I am not for scientific accuracy in that sort of films but that's really pushing the limits of credibility (even John Carter dealt with it!)

The film isn't without it merits however. After a perfunctory first act with some particularly clunky dialogues, the director unleashes the Martian zombie mayhem all at once, and keeps the tension going throughout, with a few nicely frightening scenes. And director Ruairi Robinson has an undeniable visual flair, despite the limitations of his budget.

The Last Days On Mars is derivative and entirely predictable, but it's a fun watch nonetheless. And at least it's not as bed as Red Planet. Or Mission To Mars. But then again nothing is worse than those two films. I shall be publishing the review of Europa Report next, which is a very different film altogether.

The Last Days On Mars is currently out in the UK (although you wouldn't know it with the complete lack of marketing).

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