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Life On Mars: Trips To The Red Planet

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Long a fascination for sci-fi authors and filmmakers, Mars has been the end point of countless fictional journeys into space. With Matt Damon off to the red planet for Ridley Scott's The Martian next Wednesday, here are a dozen other movies that visited the fourth rock from the Sun.

N.B. We've kept our choices specific to characters who visit Mars, rather than Martians visiting Earth. So there's no Mars Attacks!, The War Of The Worlds or Mars Needs Women here. We also left Capricorn One in space dock, since nobody actually goes to Mars in that film. But it was a close one.


Total Recall (1990)

"Get your ass to Mars," Arnold Schwarzenegger tells himself in Paul Verhoeven's bonkers sci-fi actioner. So he does, and discovers a colonist society populated by mutants, scratching an existence under the corrupt aegis of Ronny Cox. Except Arnold might be experiencing an implanted memory. Except he isn't. It's all extrapolated from Philip K. Dick's typically twisty short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, although the red planet doesn't feature in the source. It didn't feature in the remake either.


Red Planet (2000)

A manned mission designed as the start of a terraforming project goes wrong in all sorts of ways here. The ship is damaged on arrival, with Carrie-Anne Moss staying aboard it in a decaying orbit while Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore and Terence Stamp go down to the surface to encounter problems with exploding insects. There's also the extra annoyance of military robot AMEE, which is supposed to be helpful but ends up going all HAL on them. "Fuck this planet," says Kilmer.


Mission To Mars (2000)

Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise and Don Cheadle are among the astronauts on this mission, again with a view to future colonisation. The major revelation is that the "face" in the Cydonia region is a deliberate lure, and once the problem of opening the mountain is solved, it's found to contain a message from a dormant Martian civilisation who originally seeded the Earth. Sinise goes off in a magic capsule to find them. Mission To Mars came out at almost the same time as Red Planet, and despite being directed by Brian De Palma and scored by Ennio Morricone, incredibly manages to be worse.


The Last Days On Mars (2013)

Days from the completion of a six-month mission, the crew of Tantalus Base stumble on a fungus that starts turning them into zombies. So that's unfortunate. Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas and Johnny Harris endure the paranoid thrills, and it's all based on short story The Animators by prolific pulp author Sydney J. Bounds - although John W. Campbell's Who Goes There?, filmed twice as The Thing (three times if you include the recent prequel), is also a clear influence.


John Carter (2012)

Pixar director Andrew Stanton's labour of love is a full-on Martian space-opera based on the stories of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Carter (Taylor Kitsch) meets a dying alien in a cave and is transported to Barsoom (the indiginous name for the red planet), where he discovers he has super jumping powers because of the different gravity. He then gets involved in the warlike dispute between the Tharks and the Zodangans; has a fight in a collosseum with a couple of giant white apes; and enjoys a dalliance with Princess Lynn Collins, all while trying to find a way home.


Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964)

Paul Mantee and Adam West become the first humans on Mars, but it doesn't go so well for Batman, leaving Mantee to survive alone (with a monkey). Eventually he sees what he thinks is a rescue ship, but it turns out to be alien slavers. When one of the human slaves escapes, Mantee dubs him "Friday". and is pleased to share his air pills. Adventures ensue, culminating at a melting polar ice cap.


Ghosts Of Mars (2001)

John Carpenter unashamedly retreads Assault On Precinct 13 here, with the prison transposed to a terraformed Wild West-like Mars and the violent antagonists former miners possessed by evil Martian spirits. Widely considered to be a Carpenter low-point, but c'mon: any film that has Ice Cube and Jason Statham fighting deranged Marilyn Mansons to an Anthrax soundtrack can't be all bad. Crazy narrative structure too: at one point we're watching a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.


Doom (2005)

A film based on the video-game series, and doing nothing to dispel the notion that those things never work. We're on a Mars research facility in 2046, where marines including Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban, along with scientist Rosamund Pike, have arrived on a search-and-rescue mission to find Robert Russell. Here be monsters: humans mutated by a Martian chromosome. The Rock turns evil and Urban turns part-alien to survive. Perhaps best remembered for the amusing first-person-shooter sequence, mimicking the source. Clint Mansell's industrial score is pretty cool too.


Watchmen (2009)

Not, obviously, a film about Mars, but it does contain a lengthy section where Dr. Manhattan gets fed up with the human race and takes himself off there to be alone - except that he then brings Silk Spectre along. And he also builds a big clockwork Fortress Of Solitude because of reasons. While De Palma's Mission To Mars used the face in the Cydonia region, Watchmen makes hay with the apparent smiley in the Galle Crater.


Flash Gordon's Trip To Mars (1938)

Serial adventure with Buster Crabbe, saviour of the universe, etc. A mysterious ray emanating from Mars is destroying the Earth's atmosphere, so Flash (along with regular cronies Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden) shoots off in a rocketship to investigate. Impetuous boy, etc. Ming The Merciless is, of course, behind the dastardly plan, in cahoots with Mars' evil Witch Queen Azura. Flash and co. ally with the indiginous Clay People to stop them.


The Martian Chronicles (1980)

Ray Bradbury's collection of stories becomes a three-part, four-hour TV miniseries, adapted by I Am Legend author Richard Matheson. Rock Hudson and Roddy McDowall are among the cast, and the sprawling story involves astronauts and pilgrims heading to the fourth planet for various personal reasons as war rages at home. Martians with sundry eccentric agenda are encountered. Milton Subotsky, who was behind the Peter Cushing Doctor Who movies, was among the producers.


Stranded (2001)

Another crashed landing craft separated from the mothership and stranding its crew, who include Vincent Gallo, Maria de Medeiros and María "Luna" Lidón (also the director). The discovery of a maze structure containing mummified humanoid creatures and a breatheable atmosphere points to some sort of salvation on the long 26-month wait for rescue. The space shuttle set was recycled from Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys, trivia fans. Gallo would work with Lidón again on the horror movie Moscow Zero a few years later.


The Waters Of Mars (2009)

And since Doctor Who is just back on telly, here's one more, from the collection of specials that led up to David Tennant's regeneration into Matt Smith. We find The Doctor on Bowie Base One (geddit?) in 2059, where a nuclear blast that's going to kill everyone is imminent, and the human colonists are being turned into zombies by an intelligent waterborne virus. Doctor Who had its own Martians in the '60s and '70s, in the form of the Ice Warriors. Bar an off-hand mention, however, there's no sign of them here. Smith would eventually encounter them (on a Russian submarine in 1983) in the episode Cold War: the first Doctor to do so on screen since Jon Pertwee.

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