"Last Days on Mars" Review: Craig's First Take

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A group of astronaut explorers succumb one by one to a mysterious and terrifying force while collecting specimens on Mars.
2.5

You could do worse than take a page out of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi playbook, although after a while you just have to admit that Scott does it better. Just the tracking shots of the spaceship and exterior of the planet, plus the visuals, of “Prometheus” were enough to immerse me into it (but yes I know the ending blows) and any “Alien” clone has gotta have some kind of claustrophobic suspense, right? “Last Days on Mars” would make you think so, but then it fails to meet the promises of its B-movie premise.

Liev Schreiber plays Vincent Campbell, the Chief Engineer on a mission to Mars that is in its final days. Much of the crew is exhausted, disappointed that no major discoveries have been made, and anxious to make the 6 month trip back home. But as we learned in the space race, the Russians are a sneaky bunch. The one cosmonaut (Goran Vostic) on the mission has kept secret a very important discovery. That is until the ground swallows him up and all hell breaks loose.

Schreiber underplays his role as a hero while Olivia Williams (“Rushmore”) seems to take way more of a hold on the film in the first half as a resourceful, although anti-social, scientist. Elias Koteas is also on hand as the Captain while Johnny Harris, Romola Garai and Tom Cullen round out the crew. Director Ruairi Robinson and screenwriter Clive Dawson take a minimalist approach to each one of these characters (i.e no Ellen Ripley’s here) but that cast isn’t really the problem.

Taking from a short story called “The Animators” by Sydney J. Bounds, the movie amounts to one long chase after our cosmonaut winds up being infected with a zombie virus. The zombies are the regular hard-to-kill kind but like most zombies you have to know how to film them or they just look slow and lurching. Robinson offers few shocks, PG-13 levels of blood, it’s hard to make-out the make-up job on them, and since we’re just talking about a movie with a few characters, Robinson drags out the time of each death but doesn’t have much to fill the time.

He at least gets the atmosphere right; the flashing emergency lights and the quick runs through the ship to get to the bay doors in order to live for just a few minutes longer are pretty intense. The rocky terrain of Mars (actually filmed in Jordan) and the white, sterile surroundings of the ship; “Mars” doesn’t look bad for small budget sci-fi. Unfortunately thrills seem to have taken the early flight home.