Cinema has often looked up to the stars for inspiration, with alien life forms, and new moons and planets depicted in many a silver screen box-office smash. But no planet seems to inspire the minds of film-makers in quite the same way as Mars. The latest film showing us visions of the Red Planet, The Last Days on Mars, is in cinemas now, starring Liev Schrieber as an astronaut who, along with his team, discover a strange force while exploring the planet’s surface.
We don’t know what it is about our neighbour in the solar system that makes it such good film fodder – perhaps it’s because the russet tones of the desert landscapes of Morocco, Utah or Jordan combined with the heat make it a director’s dream location for recreating Mars’s harsh conditions.
But whatever the reason, join us on this space odyssey – and get in the mood for this latest otherworldly release – with our pick of the Martian flicks from days gone by.
Total Recall (1990) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside Perhaps one of Schwarzenegger’s finest pieces of work, the film is set in a dystopian future in which the human race has colonised Mars. Instead of having real experiences, humans can have memory implants. Arnie plays construction worker Douglas Quaid, who has recurring dreams about Mars, and after visiting Rekall (a company that sells memories) he begins to remember being a spy and journeys to the planet to find answers about his identity. Director Paul Verhoeven shoots scenes with a saturated red, depicting Mars as a fiery hell. Compared with contemporary films the special effects look dated, but the head-splitting scene is truly memorable.
Red Planet (2000) Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss It’s the year 2050 and humans, with our ever increasing population, have finally exhausted Planet Earth of all its goodness and resources, making it uninhabitable. The race now looks set to decamp to Mars. Mission Commander Kate Bowman played by Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity in The Matrix) is the pilot and commander of the most important mission of the 21st century and when she and her crew land on the hostile planet everything that can go wrong does go wrong: a crash-landing on the rugged rocks leaves them without any communication equipment and causes their military mapping and exploration robot to malfunction into an enemy. Then they discover they’re not alone...
Mission to Mars (2000) Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle Homing in on man’s ongoing search for life beyond our own atmosphere, Mission to Mars begins with disaster as all but one of a four-man crew are killed in a mysterious storm as they journey to the planet. The sole survivor, Commander Luke Graham (Don Cheadle) manages to send a message back to people on Earth and they respond with a rescue mission. While Graham is waiting for his ride home, he makes a fascinating discovery that suggests Martians and humans have a unique relationship.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West Made just five years before the moon landing, when interest in space travel was at its peak and Nasa was sending exploratory orbiting missions up to the stars every year, Robinson Crusoe on Mars fed the curiosities and imaginations of the audiences of the day. In the film, Commander Kit Draper and Colonel Dan McReady are orbiting Mars in an exploratory surveyor. They are forced to eject the craft when they suffer a malfunction and only Draper and a monkey named Mona survive.
John Carter (2012) Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe This Disney film, based on A Princess of Mars, the first book in the Barsoom series of novels by US author Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan) wasn’t a box-office hit – apart from in Russia where it apparently set records. The film charts the first interplanetary adventure of John Carter, an army captain who finds a medallion that can transport him to other worlds. The hero finds himself on ‘Barsoom’, which is Rice Burrough’s vision of an arid, decaying Mars teeming with some pretty unpleasant creatures and not-so-little green men. Much of the film was shot on location in Southern Utah around the Velvet Ridge mountains. Love or hate the film, it was made with spectacular special effects that brought Rice Burroughs’ vivid imaginations of Mars to life.