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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 05.24.13] United Kingdom scifi thriller



An unreachable base lost in a grandiose desolate and unforgiving setting, a strange organism, death and mayhem. If this sounds familiar it's simply because as far as pitches go, this is not so much a dead horse than a smudge of fermented proteins. Colloquially the end result is a cross between John Carpenter's The Thing and the Dr. Who TV Special "The Waters of Mars."

Last Days on Mars could have been a good if it hadn't solely been made up of all the cliches that could fit a standard-sized whiteboard.


Allow me to demonstrate: the setting is your run of the mill desolate base away from all human contact and help, in a harsh and unforgiving climate. Since snow/ice has been used extensively, as has the bottom of the ocean, the only alternative is space and that's exactly where we end up. The Curiosity Rover adventure makes Mars the perfect choice.

Now to mix in some suspense. Let's set the action to take place just before the rescue/end of shift of the mission; that always adds some tension and serves as a great McGuffin to drive the action, while explaining vaguely why a selected crew of highly trained individuals is behaving like a bunch of teenage girls at a summer sale. In this particular case none of the protagonists feel like they could have passed the most simple of tests to get them there in the first place. All the usual cliches are here, from the angry black woman (an always trusted quota) to the cowardly overweight middle aged man. I know that psycho-morphology is a great way to get and recognize character motivations but... overweight on a space mission? After six months of controlled rations? HOW?

The setting being drawn, we'll need opposition to respect the good old triptych exploration/opposition/resolution. What is there that's eminently marketable theses past 5 years? Oh yes, zombies. With zombies you now cater to both the obese neck-bearded nerds and the art house hipsters. But it's a little corny isn't it? Zombies in space? Let's make them infected by something, that's far more credible.

This sordid accumulation is surely the fruit of that bane of the human mind, destroyer of creativity supreme, the committee. And sadly the damage doesn't stop there. When I talked earlier about the Dr. Who special... Last Days on Mars is, sequence by sequence, almost exactly the same. They even got the little hydroponic garden in there. In the long list of other similarities instead of gushing water from every orifice, the infected are as thirsty as a Judea prophet returning from his 40 days desert trek. That kind of thing gets noticed you know...

In an unending search for the worst possible things to put on screen the only real action sequence is marred by shady camera work and disco lighting, congealing everything into a flashing red and yellow blur with your usual stock zombie/infected/hooded teenager shrieking in the background.

My list of griefs could go on for another three pages, so let's just go to the biggest sore point of them all: aren't those flashy space helmets supposed to be resistant to shock? I've never seen those thing break so easily, it's almost comical, every dropped helmet will have its visor shattered, condemning its wearer. Also amusing to note that Last Days on Mars is the second Irish film in the past six months with mildew eaten infected people. Is this a new trend?

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Camsham (6 years ago) Reply

Crystal Ferret would be well advised to do some basic research before throwing around utterly baseless accusations of plagiarism. That kind of thing gets noticed you know ...

Firstly, CF should read Syd Bounds' original short story 'The Animators' written back in 1974, upon which the film is based. It's set on Mars and all the same elements are in there. Next, he could confirm for himself that the film was actually in development in 2008, before Waters of Mars even appeared on TV. He could also do some research into the basic necessities of life for a manned team sent to Mars, as defined in NASA mission architectures, and he'd very quickly find out that a hydroponic garden for example, one of the key elements of his accusation, is a primary requirement.

CF better hope there are no film industry libel lawyers poring over this site.

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Umberto (6 years ago) Reply

first clip at this site:http://www.cineuropa.org/vd.aspx?t=video&l=en&did=238280

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Cletus (5 years ago) Reply

I dunno, everything you say is true, but watching the movie as entertainment, well, I was entertained (whereas, e.g. Prometheus just pissed me off at how truly bad it was). Besides, the ending leaves room for the Next Days On Mars sequel...


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