Remember when Hollywood, and just about everyone else, thought that Val Kilmer was going to end up being a bankable movie star after the 90s? 'Tombstone', 'Heat,' and even 'Batman Forever' were helping Kilmer gear up for life as a leading man in Hollywood. Then somewhere around 'Red Planet' it all went to pot. It could've been before, but even 'The Ghost and the Darkness' and 'The Saint' weren't half bad. But, after 'Red Planet' Kilmer's movies took a giant nosedive, thrusting the once renowned actor into a mire of obscurity. Kilmer has since found a niche as a character actor who appears every now and then and provides decent performances ('Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' and 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans'). He's also in a TON of crap.
However, when we look back on his career, it seemed like 'Red Planet,' a big budget sci-fi action movie that failed to perform well at the box office, was that point where his trajectory could've gone either way. If it had been a decent movie, things may have gone a different way for Kilmer. It seemed like after 'Red Planet' bombed we all realized Kilmer just wasn't as bankable as we thought he was.
Like so many sci-fi movies, in 'Red Planet' the earth is dying. Humankind has used up all the resources and now must look for other places to live. No one is occupying Mars, let's try there. They send up unmanned pods that land on Mars and start producing breathable atmosphere. One must wonder if they have the technology to do this, why don't they have the technology to fix up earth in the first place? No bother, this story is about getting people to Mars and that seems like the most logical solution, right?
A group of astronauts, led by Cmdr. Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) are sent on a long journey to the planet to find out just what went wrong with the atmosphere makers. That's where things get a little sketchy. This is a dreadfully confused movie. It doesn't know what type of sci-fi flick it wants to be, so it starts throwing out darts blindly, hoping to peg something, anything.
Is it a monster movie in space? Is a movie about the loneliness of the great unknown? Does it want to be a movie about the perils of sentient technology or a homage to what the Apollo 13 astronauts went through? Who knows. The movie and its director, Antony Hoffman, certainly don't. It borrows bits and pieces from other better, more focused, sci-fi movies and tries to create a best of collage. A sort of hodge-podge mixture of just about every sci-fi element you can think of.
It wouldn't be so bad if someone would've tried to string the events together in some sort of logical sequence. Instead, they're almost cut and pasted into the movie arbitrarily, as if someone said, "Well, hey. Wait a minute. Don't we need a killer robot in this movie also?"
You can tell there were a lot of expectations riding on this one, and it just failed to deliver. It raises some philosophical questions about God and the universe, but fails to try and answer them in the next act. As a matter of fact, the filmmakers fail to tie in those threads at all, which makes some of the most interesting conversations at the beginning seem null and void once the ending rolls around and we're left with a bland taste in our mouths.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is another Warner Bros. catalogue title. Warner has given the movie a 25GB Single Layer disc and a standard Blu-ray case. There's nothing else that's overtly special about this release other than it's supposed to be region free.
The 1080p transfer for 'Red Planet' looks good. Even better than the transfer for the newly released Warner Bros. catalogue title, 'Soldier.' The absence of ungainly DNR was a welcome surprise.
'Red Planet' has a nice, textured, detailed look to it. Facial details are top-notch even during mid-range scenes. Close ups harbor a ton of intricate detail from pores to tiny droplets of sweat. Even the movie's at times dated special effects look well done and aren't glaringly bad in HD. Aimee, the killer robot, actually looks quite good for the entire movie. Had that character been animated in today's movies I wouldn't see much of anything that would have to be changed. These are well executed special effects which really show when we bring the movie to high definition.
Colors are ample and vivid. The movie takes on a reddish hue, for obvious reasons, once the characters touch down on Mars. Still, even on Mars the characters continue to keep natural looking skintones – well, as natural as skin can look on a distant red planet. Blacks are refined and provide ample well delineated darkness to amplify the picture. Overall, I was very impressed with the look of 'Red Planet' which is now over a decade old.
Warner's audio for 'Soldier' was as you'd expect for an action movie, except it's prioritization was a a bit off. Dialogue was way too soft and at times unintelligible. Here though, that's not a problem. 'Red Planet' has a well rounded, highly efficient mix that gives notable attention to the action scenes as well as the talky ones.
The rear speakers are bursting with activity. The crew's enormous spaceship that they take to Mars creaks and clanks as it moves along. A fire tears through it and travels from one channel to the next in seamless transitions. LFE roars, maybe a tad too bluntly, as fires and explosions threaten to rip apart their transportation. The room rocks and rolls as the characters are sent bouncing down the Martian mountains inside of an escape pod.
Like I said, dialogue is always clear and never gets lost in the commotion even when there is a lot of it. It's a fun and energetic soundtrack that will give your system a hefty workout.
'Red Planet' never understands what it wants to be. It's far too confused even from the beginning. It needed to focus on one or two strong sci-fi elements instead of introducing just about every storyline we've ever seen in the genre. It was a dud at the box office and it's easy to see why. It's unfocused and dreadfully clichéd. If you're dying to see it again, or have been interested in seeing it for a while, then renting is your best bet. The audio and video are nice so you won't be disappointed there. You'll just end up being disappointed in the movie in general.