If the firestorm of flack that Prometheus earned upon its release is any indication, the modern science fiction fan is a fickle beast. If you promise too much and not deliver, you’ll be sure to hear from hoards of irate fans that expected more.
While many intellectually challenging sci-fi movies have crossed our paths, with 2001: A Space Odyssey serving as the torchbearer, few have been able to blend action and brains with any sort of grace. While many would argue that Prometheus indeed accomplished this goal, the polarized fan base is a testament to just how tough this genre is to nail.
And, with that as a backdrop, we explore The Last Days on Mars, a new take on the genre by first-time director Ruairi Robinson.
The movie follows a group of astronauts, headlined by Liev Schreiber (Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”), who are wrapping up a long scientific mission aboard the red planet. Hours before they’re about to head back home, a scientist discovers...something. Something they had been working diligently to find and something that could change the human race forever.
Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. While we’ll stop short of any serious spoilers, what they find isn’t the meaning of life or the source of our origin in the universe. In fact, it’s far stupider than that. And herein lies the main problem with The Last Days on Mars.
With impressive production values and convincing special effects, the film certainly looks good. But so does an oil painting at MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art in New York). Frankly, the issue here is the writing or lack thereof. There are certain genres you can skirt by without good writing, and sci-fi remains one of those. The film starts out promising (with an albeit less-than-original concept) and putters out of narrative steam after the first 20 minutes. What comes after that point is a mixture of things, none of which are good.
The shift in tone that the movie takes on at this point is bizarre and jarring. Again, we won’t spoil the goodies, but let’s just say it takes on a vibe similar to a popular AMC show that rhymes with “Talking Ted.” So with that in mind, you may find some exciting moments in the remainder of the film. They aren’t brilliant, and they certainly don’t get explained, but they’re there.
God bless Schreiber. He’s a genuine talent and seems out of place in this movie, to say the least. He tries his best to sell the events that take place in the movie, and we applaud his efforts. Again, I can’t imagine that he’s the cheapest person to cast so we’re left scratching our heads as to where this money came from in the first place. The rest of the cast is similarly strong, featuring Elias Koteas and Johnny Harris, both who give the less than stellar script their full attention.
Is The Last Days on Mars abhorrently terrible? No. Its production values, talented cast and impressive special effects elevate it above the standard garden-variety science fiction knock-off. However, any novel ideas that this movie had were in a half dozen movies prior, with this year’s Europa Report executing a nearly identical story with much more grace.
Will fans like it? This is tough to say and will likely polarize people the way Prometheus did. But for me? This isn’t how I’d want to spend my last days.
The Last Days on Mars is currently on iTunes and On Demand. It releases in theaters on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.