Tag Archives: Mars movies

The Aliens are Coming! Again…

Fans of big budget, cheesy Sci-Fi will be glad to learn that the first trailer is out for Independence Day: Resurgence.  It’s due in theaters June 2016, and picks up 20 years after the initial attack.  My personal hope is for something more serious than the original.  Roland Emmerich returns to direct, although he and Dean Devlin only get a character credit.  The screenplay is by Carter Blanchard,  James A Woods and Nicholas Wright, all with paper-thin writing credits so it’s hard to know what to expect.

Anyway, the official site has some interesting backstory details that had me intrigued.  First is the alternate timeline.  Picking up in 1996, and anticipating an eventual return by the invaders, the surviving Earthlings have adopted the aliens’ technology and have been preparing.  Apparently we have a Moon base and also bases on Mars and Saturn’s moon Rhea.

Additionally, there is also a reference to the impact of alien technology on consumer gadgets.  That sounded particularly intriguing at first, until I read the details that mention “breakout consumer products that were inspired by alien weaponry – including the touchscreen smartphone, bladeless fans, drones, and airport security scanners”.  OK, that’s as stupid as it is disappointing.

Still, I’ll try to reserve judgment for the final product.  As much as I am hoping for more realistic science fiction like what we were recently treated to with The Martian, I don’t mind the occasional alien shoot-em-up.

Review – The Martian

I finally got to check out The Martian this afternoon.  I thought it was fantastic, as did the family members with me, young and old.  It has all the great imagery and action sequences that I go to the movies for.

It’s a while since I read Andy Weir’s book, but based on my recollection I felt the movie was true to the story in all the right places, and better in some.  Mark Watney is MacGyver on Mars.  The detailed technical exposition is largely gone, but that would have bogged down a film that was already 140 minutes long.  For the most part the profanity was limited, probably another good change to increase the broad appeal of the film.  Drew Goddard’s screenplay also did an adequate job of fleshing out the secondary characters, something on which I felt the book fell short.

As far as accuracy goes, just as in the book the effect of winds on Mars was completely unrealistic.  The author admits as much, using it as a necessary plot device.  I was a bit disappointed in the surface suits.  They are visually appealing, and they look more like a next generation suit than a standard pressure suits, but they were clearly not as tight fitting as a true mechanical counter pressure suit (as we depict in In the Shadow of Ares) would be.

For a couple of extra space-centric reviews you can check out Keith Cowing’s review here (with a NASA-focused perspective) as well as Sarah Lewin’s review on Space.com here.

As for my previously expressed concerns regarding what kind of a message The Martian would have, those were put to rest.  By necessity the movie focuses on the hardships of living on Mars, and surviving in space in general, but it’s also a celebration of exploration and challenge.  In one scene, while resigned to his own death, Mark Watney asks that his family be told that he died doing something he loved, for a cause that was bigger than himself.  Amen.

Will The Martian Have a Message?

The Martian is out, and I’m looking forward to seeing it tomorrow with my nephews here in Florida.  So far the reviews seem uniformly excellent, with the exception of a few claiming that the “geek factor” was too toned down (I’m OK with that, especially if it expands the appeal).

The Martian PosterAs a human spaceflight advocate and Mars enthusiast, my bigger concern is the lasting effect of this movie in stirring public support for Humans-to-Mars, hoping that it will be a positive catalyst.  I had those hopes over a decade ago with Mission to Mars and Red Planet.

I certainly expect this to be better than both of those, but I’m curious what The Martian movie will have to say about why we should go there and why we should stay.  Will the movie leave viewers with a message other than “Bring him home”?  After all, in many ways the story is similar to that of Red Planet, which left us with the less than inspiring line, “F*** this planet!”

I’ll find out tomorrow.  In the meantime, at least it is inspiring some pro-space commentary.

A Reason for Optimism?

MS Convention 2015 Poster by Ed Sludden

Earlier this month I attended the 18th Annual Mars Society Convention, held at the Catholic University of America In Washington D.C.  It was my 7th Convention in 15 years, and much the same as the others in terms of tone and attendance, but I came away from it feeling much more optimistic than I had after past meetings.

Highlights included a visit during the Saturday banquet, via Skype, by The Martian author Andy Weir.  It was fun to hear his perspective on his stunning success of late, and I have high expectations for the film adaptation premiering October 2, though I also had high expectations many years ago when Mission to Mars (blech) and Red Planet (meh) debuted.

What made me more hopeful this year was the sense of modest expectations and goals taking root versus the bold yet unrealistic aim of a full-blown Mars exploration program.  Despite Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars program fading with hardly a whimper, at least in terms of a 2018 launch, support for a near-term Mars flyby is growing and I expect there will be a major push for such a mission in the upcoming election cycle.

A Mars flyby would be a major achievement, again showing the world what America and its allies can accomplish.  While no landing would occur, most of the “dragons” raised to oppose a near-term mission (radiation exposure, long duration life support, psychological challenges, etc.) would be slain in a single mission.  Best of all, compared to other proposed missions, this one could be launched before the end of a president’s second term and could fit well within NASA’s current budget.

Or could it?  Is NASA too bloated and risk-averse to be entrusted with such a task?  Harrison Schmitt, who spoke at the conference as part of a Moon versus Mars debate with Robert Zubrin, advocated the scrapping of NASA in favor of a new, focused agency with an average age of under 30 like the NASA of the 1960s (the average age in Mission Control when Apollo 11 splashed down was 28).  That raises some very interesting questions.  How would this agency be created?  How would NASA be reduced or eliminated simultaneously, to justify it as an offset or a reduction?  Is it even politically feasible, or is it a necessity?

Review: The Martian

I recently finished The Martian by Andy Weir.   I knew little about it, hadn’t read any reviews, and wasn’t expecting much.  In fact, I was ready to be disappointed. 

When we decided to write In the Shadow of Ares, we intentionally set it on a developed Mars.  For my part, I thought the story of a few astronauts and a dead planet had been done to death, with predictably mediocre results. 

I’ve never been so wrong.  This book is fantastic. 

Mark Watney is stranded on Mars when the rest of the Ares III crew have to evacuate for Earth shortly into their mission.  He is thought to be dead, and with no functioning communications and almost no food, his prospects are bleak. What he does have, though, is a mountain of ingenuity and a great sense of humor that give him a fighting chance.

The Martian is highly technical, but so funny and suspenseful that it should be accessible to nearly anyone (the language is genuine—and salty—so it’s not for all). Despite the bulk of the story consisting of the narration of the protagonist, the voice of that character is more than strong enough to carry the story along, and it doesn’t hurt that the pacing and suspense are outstanding.  I did have a few technical and editorial criticisms, but they are too insignificant to describe in detail here.

This is one of the most creative and enjoyable books I have ever read, and I recommend it highly.

Mars Needs…More Movies

I took the family to see Mars Needs Moms Friday, and for the most part the trepidation I expressed in an earlier post was unwarranted.

Despite some flat/cheesy dialogue I felt the screenplay did a nice job of extending a 700-word book to feature film length.  The movie was reasonably consistent with the book, while the new characters and subplots added depth to the original narrative.  Even the obligatory kid elements (gadgets, colors, slides, etc.) were generally plot-relevant and less annoying than other adaptations I have had to sit through.

Visually, Mars Needs Moms was impressive, though the human characters still suffer from the “dead-eye” that afflicts so much computer animation.  Among the humans, the character Gribble was well animated, but Milo and his Mom left something to be desired.  The Martians were interesting enough, though I have to say I found their lower bodies a bit disturbing to look at.

As for technical accuracy, the movie fared quite well.  Keeping in mind that it was based on a short, illustrated story, I was OK with the filmmakers keeping the imagery in the climactic scene where the characters are wearing helmets and ordinary clothing on the Martian surface.  I felt there was an effort to compensate for that by making the rest of the film more scientifically accurate, including using a wormhole to shorten the months-long Earth-Mars transit, and showing the lower Martian gravity (though as portrayed it looked closer to lunar gravity to me).

The most important critics, my 5, 8 and 10-year-old daughters, loved Mars Needs Moms, as did my wife.  I’d recommend it to anyone with children.  As for me, I enjoyed it though I’m still looking forward to a Mars movie that is simultaneously entertaining and realistic.

Mars Needs Moms…and Dads and Kids

March 11 will see the release of Mars Needs Moms, a computer-animated Disney movie based on the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed.  I’ve read the book to my children, and look forward to taking them to see the adaptation.  It will be interesting to see if a film based on a 700-odd word story can stand on its own, or if it will be an afternoon wasted, a la The Polar Express.

Of course, I’m hoping for the former.  Even if realism is out the window, anything that gets the next generation interested in Mars is a good thing.  What I’d really like to see, however, is some realistic Hollywood fare to get kids excited about Mars.  In the Shadow of Ares would be a great place to start.

After all, Mars really needs humans.