When new life may or may not have been discovered by a robot probe on Mars, three very ordinary people are sent to Mars to confirm or deny the discovery of life. These are definitely not astronauts with the ‘Right Stuff’’. They might not even have any stuff at all. This is an animated film done on a small budget within the ‘mumblecore’ style. Mixing mumblecore with Science Fiction is original, but the resulting film demands more than it delivers in return.
Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
To start what is ‘mumblecore’? Wikipedia defines mumblecore as ‘a sub-genre of American independent film characterised by low budget production values and amateur actors, heavily focused on naturalistic dialogue.’ One of the filmmakers associated with the movement is Mark Duplass. The films rarely have a lot going on and more focus on dialog that is rarely even dramatic. The dialog frequently sounds unscripted and improvised. This sounds like the antithesis of Science Fiction films that frequently use special effects and are directed to getting to specific plot points. Films like ‘Darkstar’ (1974) sometimes throw in some naturalistic dialog for comic effect specifically to show how unexpected it is in a Science Fiction film. ‘Mars’ is creative for trying to bring the two types of story together for an entire film.
This is Science Fiction without a sense of excitement. Life is discovered on Mars by a mobile probe. We know from the beginning that this life is a contamination of Earth origin, but the characters do not know that their probe has been contaminated (in a way that is rather unlikely, by the way). Earth decides it is time to send two missions to Mars, one purely robotic and one with three astronauts: Charlie Brownsville (the same Mark Duplass), Dr. Casey Cook (Zoe Simpson) and Hank (Paul Gordon). We travel with the intrepid trio listening to their conversation, which is frustratingly banal and irrelevant. That is mumblecore for you. The brave astronauts are urged on by a southern-style President of the United States, played by Kinky Friedman in a cowboy hat.
Eventually romance blooms between Charlie and Casey and they seal their love by peeing it into the surface of Mars (also rather unlikely, by the way). But then romance had its chance to take hold as they go from a zero-G section of the ship to the swimming pool (‘unlikely’ does not cover this one). While the claim was made by writer/director Geoff Marslett that most of the film follows scientific fact, it really is not hard to find howlers like that radio communication between Earth and Mars is instantaneous. There are a some interesting concepts discussed, but much of the conversation leads to not very much. The humour and there is a lot, is decidedly off-centre and hit or miss.
At least the look of MARS is unusual. It uses bright colours throughout. The film is entirely done in a rotoscoped animation technique in homage to ‘Waking Life’ and ‘A Scanner Darkly’, but it is more than a step down in quality. Marslett brought in his project on a reported $450,000 budget.
‘Mars’ is a film more notable for its odd mixture of Science Fiction and mumblecore than for actually being a believable story. I rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. ‘Mars’ will be available on March 25 on iTunes, PlayStation, Vudu & Xbox.
Mark R. Leeper
© Mark R. Leeper 2014