Disneyland Ride Movies (Part 5)

Movie: Mission to Mars

Director: Brian De Palma

Released: 2000

Cast: Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, Kim Delaney

Plot: After the first Earth mission to explore Mars results in death and mystery, a second mission to launched to investigate.

The Ride: Have you ever heard of…The Tomorrowland Problem? No? Well, the purpose of the land is to show you the future. The problem is that the future keeps turning up and the predictions of former generations are a little quaint. Take, for example, the 1955 ride Rocket to the Moon. Less than two decades later this was no longer a flight of fancy, but a scientifically inaccurate prediction less impressive than the real thing. So they shift the goalposts and refurbish it as Mission to Mars. An early model simulator ride, the visitors would be briefed on their mission by an animatronic mission control guy before entering the ‘rocket’ and sitting in an amphitheatre arrangement.

The theatre would shake and tilt using hydraulics, and the various screens above, below and around you would let you view outside. You’d blast off from Earth and just zip over to Mars. After a bit of an orbit, a volcanic eruption damages the rocket and you head home. Exit theatre. The attraction would be closed to make way for the notorious ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, an immense failure.

Review: There are two things that become immediately clear in the first few minutes of this movie. First and foremost, this is a movie for Boomers. All the main Boomer characters are characterised as tough-talking cowboys who are too unpredictable and wild to go on an important mission. The younger characters are naive or straight-laced, and often get sassed by the Boomer’s old timey wisdom. The second thing that strikes me is that this wants to be Apollo 13. The Ron Howard helmed space adventure was a massive hit right out the gate and there were a number of astronaut movies that tried to ride that wave without making the cultural impact. Mission to Mars replicates Apollo 13 right down to introducing all the characters at a house party and casting Gary Sinise as the guy left behind from the mission. That’s weirdly specific casting there.

With all the smug prick characters established, the younger crew headed by Don Cheadle go to Mars. Reading that sentence took longer than the time dedicated to this journey. This is the scene where they find something mysterious based the ‘Face of Cydonia’ photo and this whole scene is constructed in a horribly paced sequence. First we have some very out of place Wes Anderson style framing of characters reacting to something while a plodding score adds an unexpected comedic tome to the moment. Suddenly they get dismembered in surprising ways, leaving only Don Cheadle alive without much chance of survival. Next we go back to the Boomers who are flying to the rescue while poorly recreating memorable moments from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I feel like they missed a trick with Don Cheadle calling for help. Not confirming who survived is an easy way to add tension.

The weirdest character is Jerry O’Connell, playing the token younger member of the crew and weird creep. He’s introduced as desperately trying to score with various women, and during the trip makes a whole scene out of organising some candy into the shape of a DNA strand. He declares this to be his ‘perfect woman’, whatever that means. Gary Sinise then eats some of the candy, and Jerry O’Connell’s laments that the DNA is now that of a rat. I don’t think this is how science works. This is a matter of hindsight, but Andy Weir has really shown how to tell an interesting and accessible stories about scientific processes. Even with my ignorance of the subject, this scene is really dumb and I hated it. I haven’t it more when they called back to by overlaying the scene over a later one.

It could be the lazy film-making that makes up so much of this script, but this just feels like a dumb movie. Or it’s a movie that thinks we’re dumb. In order to make Gary Sinise sympathetic, they want us to know about his dead wife. In the laziest possible approach, we get an extended scene of him watching home video of her and emoting to it. Even the big revelation that the weird structure of Mars was left by aliens as a clue for humans to follow is lazy. They’ve recycled all the ideas of Arthur C. Clarke’s stories without any of the science or philosophy.

Just to add insult to injury, after slogging through this tiresome, stupid movie we get the big, magical reveal of the aliens. The revelation that aliens are out there and had a hand in human development is not new, and it’s been done better than this (mostly by Arthur C. Clarke). A few years earlier, Contact copped some flack for not showing the alien and instead using a metaphor. This movie should have gone with the metaphor because the alien looks like garbage. Even for the time, a CGI character this badly rendered stands out as bad, and the design is also awful. What little good-will this tired, boring movie had vanishes with the ridiculously bad looking special effect that the entire final act relies on.

Along with The Country Bears, this is the attraction-based movie that people are least aware of. It’s easy to see why. In spite of the star-power attached, there’s very little to see here. Ideas we’ve seen before, unlikeable characters and dull story-telling, really nothing to recommend here.

Final nail in the coffin: most annoying computer voice I’ve ever heard. Are to trying to make their minds snap?

Rating: TWO out of TEN


We really didn’t expect anything to take the bottom spot on this list from The Haunted Mansion. Colour us surprised. The Haunted Mansion is borderline unwatchable, but at least some of the actors are having fun. Here we have Gary Sinise bulging his eyes and smirking in an attempt to emote.

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  2. Tower of Terror
  3. The Country Bears
  4. The Haunted Mansion
  5. Mission to Mars