One of the great truisms of our universe is that if Mars isn’t invading Earth, then we are invading Mars. Like a couple of feuding neighbors that throw dead birds in the other’s pool and send the Jehovah’s Witnesses to each other’s house, both planets can’t seem to get by without trying to take a space dump on the other one.
Hollywood caught on to all this interplanetary intrigue a long time ago and the whole genre probably peaked in the fifties and sixties with 1959’s The Angry Red Planet being a worthy effort distinguished by its serious tone, interesting message and the use of a gimmick called Cinemagic.
Dr. Iris Ryan, one of two survivors from an ill-fated mission to Mars, recounts her story once back on Earth.
The movie plays it smart by having only a four member crew. So many of these space flight films insist on having a crew of about ten cardboard characters you don’t care about. In this movie, you only have about four cardboard characters you don’t care about, so when somebody croaks, you know the movie means business!
These four people are the aforementioned Iris, the captain of the ship (Colonel O’Bannion), a professor of something or other named Professor Gettel and then there is Sam Jacobs. Sam is the funny, beefy guy who was standard issue on all space flights in the fifties. He’s the character who carts around some kind of ultrasonic freeze gun and names it Cleo, after Cleopatra because she is one cool babe. He’s also the character that you just know (and hope) gets wasted pronto on Mars.
Iris and the Colonel are immediately an item and the Captain spends most of the flight to Mars hitting on her and calling her Irish.
I’m not going to lie to you about some parts of this movie being a bit dated. When the Captain isn’t trying to get into Irish’s astro panties, you’ve got the crew wearing what appears to be penny loafers, the professor smoking a pipe, and even a scene of Iris typing up reports on a typewriter. She also finds time to put a little perfume on her pulse points!
Once on the planet, all four of them roll out to take a look around. There’s nothing like a space mission where they leave no one in the ship. What if something happens to the ship when they’re gone, like a carjacking or something?
The other concern of course, is what happens if they all get attacked by something, like one of those Martian man-eating plants you’re always hearing about? I think that Mission Control would like to have someone back at the ship who could report that everyone got themselves turned into Soylent Green and could fly the rocket back home and turn over all the data that they collected.
So, ignoring their training, they all walk out into the alien Martian landscape and straight into Cinemagic!
Cinemagic can best be described as looking like a film negative that is tinted red. It’s quite effective and allows the film to get away with some pretty atrocious special effects.
Distracted by the fact that everything is red and that you can’t see things as they normally would appear, you can swallow that these pictures could very well be something from an alien world. Heck, I’ve never been to Mars so maybe the landscape there looks like a bad drawing shot through a red filter and then negativized.
Their exploring finds our intrepid Cinemagicnauts doing what they do best – riling up the native life out of sheer stupidity. Irish is whacking away with her machete and the next thing you know she’s running away screeching “it’s alive!” That innocent looking branch she hacked off was really part of a gigantic monster’s leg hair or something!
This is the creature that is featured on the poster and is best described as a thing with the body of a rat, the legs of a spider and the wings of a bat. This thing is moving on all its legs and making this awful sound before that guy with Cleo shoots it in the eyes and blinds it.
It screeches, trying to rub its eyes with its legs and eventually leaves, but I actually felt kind of bad for that sucker! After all, he was just minding his business and this dumb skank starts amputating his body parts.
After being chased by a giant amoeba, they decide it’s time to head back to Earth. The remainder of the movie reveals a message from Mars, explains who lives and dies and who got his armed slimed and the attempts to save him back on Earth.
The message from Mars at the end takes this one of out of the juvenile category that you may have been tempted to put it in based on its poster. This isn’t a story of how we can just land on some planet and take over through bluster and blaster, but about the fact that there may those out there watching and getting ready for us when we are finally advanced enough to come bother them.
The ridiculously primitive view of space flight and the cruddy interplay between the crew (the fat guy complains to Irish that her space suit hides her curves) is more than outweighed by the alien look and feel that the Cinemagic process gives their stay on Mars.
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