by Thomas Kelly
Mission to Mars is a beautiful picture.
It is also a dangerous picture.
It's plot is lifted from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, as is its flying Ferris-Wheel-hamster-cage spacecraft. For a moment, it even sounds as if HAL the computer is back. The similarity is recognized as accidental however, as this one quickly reveals itself lacking in condescension or superciliousness. An artificial intelligence without these traits is just another obedient, talking box. (Or a critic who's no fun at all.)
At least the theme here is different, perhaps, assuming that anyone knows if the Kubrick version had a theme, or just what it was. Mission to Mars addresses the question currently in vogue among X-Files enthusiasts and kindred New Age spirits. Is it possible that earthly life originated on another planet, in this conjecture Mars? Of course its possible, but what's the fascination? If NASA – or Hollywood – proved this to be the case tomorrow, how would it answer the mystery of life's origins in the universe?
The beauty of Mission to Mars is its tour de farce of special effects. They are of a technology unavailable to Kubrick, whose film remains, no less ahead of its time in its reliance on imaginative realism. Creationists and evolutions alike should be stunned by the presentation of spirituality. To gratify the first, our space voyagers are heroic, impassioned and devoted to the point of consummate self-sacrifice. The second will appreciate the beauty and sensitivity of the ancestry which we follow on the evolutionary journey. Racism and pettiness are alien to our progeny on the first Mars mission and this too adds a thread of beauty in the form of admirable characters admirably acted.
So, where's the danger. No, it's not in the meteorological turmoil of the red planet. It's not in the near blinding and ephemeral glimpses of solar cataclysms and spellbinding views of nature's volatile creative processes. It's not even in the suspenseful concern about dwindling oxygen. The danger lies in the almost subliminal appearances of NASA's logo. Even Kubrick seemed to understand that if human colonization of the solar system were desirable, it had damn well better be profitable! Remember the Pan Am logo on the space station shuttle?
But here the message is "Full steam ahead, damn the meteors – and the cost too!"
A miniature, remote controlled land rover serves our adventurers obediently and, whether by intent or design, we are never sure which thanks to a lack of scale, appears to be nothing more than the sort of radio-operated toy easily purchased with a year's accumulation of the change lost in the crevices of the couch. Bill Gates' couch, maybe. And let's not forget that the crevices here are the openings in sidereal space, into which NASA has a habit of dropping "pocket change" equaling the GNP of some industrialized nations.
If not profit, what then are the motives for space exploration? Mundane commercial exploitation? Heavens no! Hollywood supplies the answer here. If we would just give up being so damned attached to our earthly material prosperity and stop protesting such minor inconveniences as a carnivorous income tax, we might just solve the mystery of our appearance in the universe. Well okay, if not in the universe, maybe in the solar system. Who knows, there might just be a descendant of the Delphic Oracle living in the cave of a Venutian moon, anxious to unravel such mysteries. Or perhaps there's a hologram explaining the riddle of the Sphinx in the glove box of an abandoned time machine orbiting Neptune? How will we ever know these things if we aren't willing to finance the hobbies of astro-physicists to the tune of being unable to finance the wife's bypass operation or the children's' education – or even a thankful of gasoline?
Come on humanity, get your priorities straight! Life on this planet is not all that great and if you will just give a bit, the enlightened and elite will take us to a better one. Perhaps a pristine little world on the outskirts of Orion's buckle, a place where our ancestors have solved all the problems of economic production and t.v. dinners grow in the backyard, already heated on a micro-wave vine. Vine? Oh wait a minute, that's a different planet, the one intersected by Hollywood and Vine.
Thomas Kelly is a writer and graphic designer in Encinitas, California.