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|Category||Science Fiction||Main Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer - Canyon
|Running Time||102:08 Minutes|
Roadshow Home Entertainment
|Case||C-Button Version 2|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.40:1||
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Annoying Product Placement||Yes, extremely|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The scenario Red Planet paints of our future is a simplistic one in nature, in that by the year 2050, the little blue-green planet we call home has been so badly corrupted by our presence that we've begun sending probes full of algae to Mars in an effort to make it habitable. This prologue had me speculating that rather than balloon, the planet's population will actually shrink once the Baby Boomers die out, and the believability factor declines from there. Anyway, the story has it that the oxygen levels of Mars have started to decline, and a collection of astronauts has been assembled to travel there and find out exactly what is going on. They are led by Commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss), whose point of view the prologue and crew introductions are spoken from, and who is utterly wasted during the course of the film. The rest of the crew is made up of a repairman named Gallagher (Val Kilmer), co-pilot Ted Santen (Benjamin Bratt), Doctor Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), the slightly brain-dead looking Chip Pettengill (Simon Baker), and philosopher Chantilas (Terence Stamp).
Perhaps it is a sign that I am growing old, considering that every time I think of Gallagher, I think of a certain ancient video game by the name of Galaga (okay, so I might not be quite old enough to know if I've spelt it right). Anyway, the mission and its participants are rather hastily thrown together, and an example of this is the combat droid that the armed services have lent the Mars mission for navigational purposes. AMEE, when she makes her first appearance, makes one wonder whether NASA is expecting the crew to run into Ray Park while they're rummaging around on Mars. Other plot elements, such as the real reason why the algae levels on the planet are being depleted, could have been used much more effectively if not for this device. It's almost as if the computer generation production company responsible had a contract that demanded a certain level of screen time for their product. Again, the believability factor is severely compromised, although not nearly as much as when the landing module's use results in only one ruptured spleen (the sound of people coughing in disbelief at the theatres was deafening).
Okay, so a lot more effort is required to cope with the massive plot holes that crop up here, but the deciding factor is that the end results are simply not worth the effort. Numerous critics of this film have described it as being little more than a 1950s B-grade science fiction flick with a 2000-level budget, and I have to admit that some of the special effects are breath-taking. It is also to see why the little mining town of Coober Pedy has become a preferred location to simulate the desolate cliffs of Mars, with numerous beautiful shots, computer-enhanced though they may be, giving a real sense of being there. In the end, there are two reasons to see this film: one is to get a glimpse of Carrie-Anne Moss in the buff, and the other is a budget that appears to have been entirely expended upon special effects. Come to think of it, this may well be the twenty-first century's answer to Plan 9 From Outer Space.
The transfer is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. This is one film that, like Halloween or Mad Max 2, has to be seen in its proper aspect ratio before you can claim that you've seen it at all.
The transfer is razor-sharp throughout, although this is not exactly a blessing because it results in some rather nasty film-to-video artefacts that I will cover in due course. The shadow detail of this transfer is excellent, with the night-time sequences really coming to life in a way that gives me hope for the future of home entertainment. There is no low-level noise, and no grain to speak of.
The colour saturation varies somewhat according to the time and locations that are being depicted in the film. On board the Mars One spaceship, the colour scheme is very natural and clean, with all hues being represented equally in a clinical fashion that reflects the design that was meant to be conveyed here. The daytime sequences on Mars have a heavy emphasis on red, while the night-time sequences on the planet seemed to have an emphasis on cold greys, which were both conveyed in this transfer without any problems.
MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts, however, were a very big problem in this transfer, and quite distractingly so due to the number of shots in this film with fine lines and aliasing-prone objects. Unlike the last few transfers I have looked at where this artefact was tolerable because it was mostly subtle and confined to small parts of the picture, the aliasing here pretty much overrides what was trying to be conveyed in each scene. During the first fifty minutes of the film, I counted an average of one distracting shimmer every minute, after which time this problem settled down to a vaguely more acceptable level. While I suspect that this movie will look a lot better on a progressive display unit, the fact remains that for the majority of us, this transfer is only just acceptable. Film artefacts were minimal at worst.
The packaging claims that this disc is RSDL formatted, but it is most assuredly a single-layer disc.
There is only one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second. The lack of foreign dubs or commentaries aside, I would have liked to have a Mystery Science Theatre-style soundtrack for this film as an option. The inclusion of such a soundtrack would have made the extras package worthy of five stars by itself.
The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, save for the occasional mumbled word here and there that was of little consequence to the overall film. This is very much a talky sort of film when it starts out, so those who are expecting a lot of directional effects will need to wait until the second half when the film stops trying to be clever and gives us a more Alien-like experience. There were no discernible problems with audio sync.
The score music in this film is credited to Graeme Revell, whose work I have really never enjoyed, possibly due to the fact that the other films I have heard his work in have been a load of the proverbial. The score for this film is more of a subtle, elegant beast that stays in the background and complements the film rather than telegraphing it as seems to be the case with a lot of films in this style. However, I tend to wonder whether a composer like Michael Kamen or Ennio Morricone could have made more out of the musical undercurrent here.
The surround channels are aggressively utilized to support the music and such directional effects as the helicopter probe, which cycles from one surround to the other in a most pleasing manner. Most of the film is very dialogue-heavy, giving the soundtrack a slight bias towards the front channels, but the surround channels were quite well used when appropriate to increase the atmosphere of the film.
The subwoofer is where a lot of my problems with this soundtrack came into the fore. For starters, this soundtrack seemed to have been mastered at a higher volume than usual, which resulted in me turning my main volume down about two decibels in order to get comfortable with it. It is never a good sign when you don't notice a significant volume drop-off between the Dolby Digital trailer and the main feature. Even when I had the volume turned down in order to cope with the loud nature of the soundtrack, the subwoofer produced a lot of rumbling and low distortion that seemed totally out of place with the rest of the soundtrack. The music at 54:18 is a good example of this: a light, harmonious refrain on strings is accompanied by a whirring sort of rumble from the subwoofer. I was not very impressed by this at all, in spite of how weak soundtracks sound to me when the bass is not given at least a little emphasis.
The video transfer is marred by frequent aliasing.
The audio transfer contains enough bass rumble for even me to get annoyed with it.
The extras are very basic.
© Dean McIntosh
(my bio sucks... read it anyway)
May 18, 2001
|DVD||Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built In (Amplifier)|
|Amplification||Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|