Alan Smithee Podcast 85: Red Planet (2000, Antony Hoffman) / Mission to Mars (2000, Brian De Palma)

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In this episode of an Alan Smithee Podcast we conclude our two-part look at Mars on film for the month of Mars…March. Unlike our previous episode, these Mars movies portray a more benign look at the planet’s inhabitants (benign to the point of boredom in one case) and center around visits to the formidable fourth rock from the sun rather than invasions from it.

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Red Planet was not the first of the two Mars movies to come out in 2000, but it was certainly the lesser. Misrepresented as some kind of horror film, the story is an extremely directionless account of astronauts on a mission to repair terraforming technology installed on Mars due to Earth becoming uninhabitable. What happens next is so boring and inane that the Mars’ stature in popular imagination as a place of wonder, mystery and danger is irreparably reduced in the mind of the viewer. The mostly-talented cast helps add a moment or two. Val Kilmer is a total pro, as always, but one-and-done director Antony Hoffman’s mise-en-scene is even blander than the screenplay. It’s a real waste of a planet.

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Mission to Mars is an entirely other kind of space exploration film, one in which the danger of Mars is primarily the matter of getting there, as the title implies. The purpose of the mission is to unravel a mystery with echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey – echoes so strong that the entire mainstream critical establishment seemed to dismiss the film out of hand as another case of Brian De Palma being unoriginal (a charge Quentin Tarantino stopped having to defend by embracing his lack of originality, but no matter.) Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise and Don Cheadle are all very good at selling the human drama which leads up to a heavy sci-fi conclusion that actually has a point, unlike Red Planet.

Download this episode and get your ass to Mars – again!

NEXT EPISODE: WE’RE LATE FOR PASSOVER! THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988, MARTIN SCORSESE) & THE PASSOVER PLOT (1976, MICHAEL CAMPUS)

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Alan Smithee Podcast 75: Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma) / The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999, Katt Shea)

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For a long time, Carrie was a title that evoked a reaction from perhaps more non-fans than fans of the genre, and this is the highest compliment you can pay the authors. The name conjures a very broad idea of high school, with many variations depending on one’s personal memories of that time in their lives, all retaining the common thread of inherent hellishness within the walls of that mythologized American institution. Who among us (who are reading this) has not at one time imagined themselves the social scapegoat of their entire school, and subsequently imagined themselves the avenging angel of the prom that Sissy Spacek became?

Carrie was not merely the first horror film to deal with the unpleasantness of high school, but one of the first American films, period. Incredibly, the film includes John Travolta a mere two years before he helped heap on more of the same bullshit about the best years of our lives in Grease, nearly undoing all the pig-killing work he accomplished for Brian De Palma. As a film, Carrie is so damned good that even though every single detail has been parodied and referenced relentlessly in the past 35 years, it detracts not one whit from the viewing experience. This is the highest and rarest compliment you can pay to anything enmeshed in mass pop culture unconsciousness.

A shame then that Carrie does not enjoy the same reverence it once did for so long, even amongst horror fans. Whatever cache it once held has depleted and wouldn’t you know, there’s a remake on the way to rewrite history for the young unknowing. Tragically the film has suffered a fate cousin to the pain of the bullied – the pain of anonymity.

Before the anonymity, there was an intervening period of post-Scream quasi-recognition for young movie fans: those weird years of normalization when the New Horror of the 70s became accepted and dulled by the mainstream. This was a time of opportunistic revivalist sequels: if a Scream fan was likely to at least have heard of Carrie, some executive somewhere reasoned, then why not make a sequel? Whatever shallow inspirations led to the production of The Rage: Carrie 2, you can at least say on it’s behalf that unlike filmmakers in the modern era of soulless remakes, the authors of this poor sequel at least had some kind of reverence for the original. That doesn’t translate to a good film because unfortunately, the authors were also idiots. They bring back Amy Irving as Sue Snell from part one and, her for exposition and carelessly discard her.

Worse than being stupid, The Rage is also sorely bland. The influence of TV on film can be seen plainly going from Carrie 1 to 2 – for all of De Palma’s visual glossiness, the high school of Carrie felt like it could be a real place. The school of Carrie 2 is a WB (CW now) teen drama, down to each melodramatic story point and especially Carrie 2 herself, who is conventionally attractive and nothing at all like Spacek’s wonderfully awkward misfit.

Incidentally, The Rage: Carrie 2 came out the same year as the Freddie Prinze Jr classic, She’s All That. Both films are alike in their basic teen-soap logic that all an attractive girl needs to do to be made over into someone even more attractive is take off her glasses. They really should’ve been the same movie, with Rachel Leigh Cook torching the big dance at the end. They could’ve just made a film of the infamous Carrie: The Musical.

NEXT WEEK: WITCH MARRIAGE SPECIAL! I MARRIED A WITCH (1942, RENE CLAIR) & BEWITCHED (2005, NORA EPHRON)