Mission to Mars

USA 2000

Reviewed by Philip Strick


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

June 2020. Following the sudden death of his wife Maggie, astronaut Jim McConnell is replaced by Luke Graham as commander of Mars One, NASA's first manned flight to Mars. Landing 13 months later, Luke and his team report to Ray Beck at Mission Control that they plan to investigate a mysterious mountain in the Cydonia region. As they approach, the mountain explodes, killing Luke's colleagues. He manages one last scrambled message before being stranded on the planet with the mountain's secret, a vast sculpted face.

NASA rushes the completion of Mars Two for a hastily assembled rescue mission, headed by Woody Blake, who insists on Jim McConnell as his co-pilot. Completing the team are Woody's wife Dr Terri Fisher and mission specialist Phil Ohlmyer. A year later, they reach Martian orbit but the ship is wrecked by meteorites. During their transfer to Mars One's resupply module, Woody drifts uncontrollably away. Rather than burn up in the Martian atmosphere he removes his helmet and dies instantly.

Reaching Luke's encampment beside Mars One's ERV (Earth return vehicle) the Mars Two survivors find Luke alive in a makeshift greenhouse. Studying the information he has assembled about the giant face, they theorise the structure has been broadcasting the equivalent of a DNA pattern. When they respond, an entrance suddenly opens. They venture inside the face, discovering a breathable atmosphere and a huge hologram of the solar system. A holographic alien 'guide' shows how, following a cataclysmic meteor impact in the distant past, most of the original Martians escaped to a remote galaxy. A few came to Earth, evolving over millions of years into the human race. Accepting the invitation to go "home", Jim is absorbed into the Martian ship stored inside the face and hurtles away into space. Terri, Luke and Phil set out on their return journey.


Originally spotted in 1976 by a Viking probe, the Face of Cydonia was identified as either an accident of lighting or a giant Martian artefact, according to preference. Especially when computer-enhanced, the Face demanded investigation no matter how many later probes recast it into the random dunes of its origin. Now that the Moon, while not exactly trodden flat, has become familiar and mundane, not a monolith in sight, it must suit NASA's ambitions and budgeting to encourage hints of fresh mysteries on the red planet where (regardless of such base parodies as Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall or Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!) signs of ancient wisdom might yet be uncovered.

While the end credits of Mission to Mars absolve NASA of any blame for the film's contents, there's a detectable element of self-promotion here, counterbalancing the dismal record of failures among the Mars missions so far. Although the physical NASA presence is confined to a glum, uncredited Armin Mueller-Stahl, the astronauts themselves embody all the heroism and resourcefulness of updates from The Right Stuff, while the grandeur of the space walks and planetary exploration sequences is like an exotic travel commercial, a refurbished Destination Moon to inspire a new generation of stargazers.

The irony of this vivid and highly pleasing display is that it embroiders and disguises a whole string of disasters, a process not without precedent in director Brian De Palma's work. Much of the story, in fact, happens offstage (such as the gaps between the opening Fourth of July picnic, the reunion months later and the entire flight of Mars One), leaving us simply with selected highlights and cryptic references to what we haven't seen. Such abbreviations lead to an increasing puzzlement. Setting aside the delicate question as to how the presence of a married couple would affect unmarried crew members over a six-month confinement, there are symptoms of screenwriters' desperation in the business of Mars Two's vulnerability to a single burst of meteorites, and the seemingly effortless repair of what remains of Mars One.

Above all, the film's splendidly sculpted face - which, as will be expected by all post 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) observers, does indeed contain an alien message - remains crammed with unyielded secrets. It can't have been left by the original Martians as its educational video about evolution is too recent, although the surface was presumably carved sufficiently long ago to become deeply buried. The few Martians (who sensibly aimed for Earth instead of perversely undertaking the unimaginably arduous trip to some distant galaxy) seem in any case to have been fish-like, contriving with remarkable enterprise to evolve into dinosaurs and human beings by way of the buffalo. Now slightly resembling Disney cats and capable of shedding gentle tears, they are understandably silent amid the bedlam of Morricone's soundtrack. Their open invitation to join them among the stars, however, involves a preliminary drowning (a debt here to The Abyss) and is consequently rather less persuasive than the similar offer made to the pensioners of Cocoon.

That it is accepted nonetheless by Jim (Gary Sinise, well qualified to space out thanks to Apollo 13) gives the whole affair some kind of circularity, although De Palma was clearly thwarted from using some alien miracle to resurrect Jim's lost wife (too much like Contact). Instead, the departing spaceman is given glimpses from the film's earlier scenes, ending with a close-up of his wife giving a speech about life reaching for life. Combined with the spurious urgency of a threatened tempest, Mission to Mars concludes ingloriously with the catchphrase, "Have a great ride, Jim", a curious trivialisation of what could have been a memorable adventure. There's some throwaway fancy camerawork at the beginning and a repeat of his shock-shot trick from Raising Cain, but otherwise De Palma's own ride appears to be largely on autopilot, at its best when floating in space and when the cast is cavorting upside down to Van Halen's 'Dance the Night Away'. Whether the Face-makers have anything comparable remains to be seen.


Brian De Palma
Tom Jacobson
Jim Thomas
John Thomas
Graham Yost
Lowell Cannon
Jim Thomas
John Thomas
Director of Photography
Stephen H. Burum
Paul Hirsch
Production Designer
Ed Verreaux
Music/Music Conductor/
Ennio Morricone
©Touchstone Pictures
Production Companies
Touchstone Pictures presents a Jacobson Co. production
Executive Producer
Sam Mercer
David Goyer
Justis Greene
Jim Wedaa
Associate Producers
Ted Tally
Chris Soldo
Jacqueline Lopez
Production Controller
Allen E. Taylor
Supervising Production Co-ordinator
Lynn Andrews
Production Co-ordinators
Anita Meehan Truelove
2nd Unit Jordan:
Todd Lachniet
Jordan Production Services
International Traders
Unit Production Manager
Heather Meehan
Location Managers
Connie Kennedy
2nd Unit, Jordan:
Richard Sharkey
Location Co-ordinator
2nd Unit, Jordan:
Joseph Milijian
Post-production Supervisor
Kendall McCarthy
Visual Playback Supervisor
Doug De Grazzio
2nd Unit Director
Eric Schwab
Assistant Directors
Chris Soldo
Paul Barry
David Footman
Berengaria Tomkies
2nd Unit Jordan:
Edward Licht
2nd Unit Vancouver:
John Woodward
Tracey Poirier
Mark Currie
Script Supervisors
Portia Jacox
2nd Unit, Vancouver:
Lorelei Kuchera
Denise Chamian
Stuart Aikins
Kara Katsoulis
Stacie Goodman
Canada, Associate:
Sean Cossey
Loop Group:
Sondra James
Directors of Photography
2nd Unit, Jordan:
Steven Poster
2nd Unit, Vancouver:
Michael Lonzo
Camera Operators
Gordon Hayman
Doug Craik
Steadicam Operator
Larry McConkey
Visual Effects
Hoyt Yeatman
John Knoll
Jacqueline Lopez
Jodi Birdsong
Melissa Bretherton
Richard Friedlander
Alien Character Design Supervisor
Jeff Mann
ILM Character Design Group
Mark Moore
Benton Jew
Michael Brunsfeld
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Industrial Light & Magic
Visual Effects Producer:
Sandra L. Scott
Co-visual Effects Supervisor:
George Murphy
CG Supervisors:
Patrick T. Myers
Christophe Hery
Visual Effects Art Director:
Alex Laurant
Compositing Supervisor:
Dorne Huebler
CG Animation Supervisor:
Dennis Turner
CG Sequence Supervisors:
Howard Gersh
Samir Hoon
Sean Schur
CG Model Supervisor:
Tony Hudson
Digital Colour Timing Supervisor:
Bruce Vecchitto
Lead Development CG Artist:
Craig Hammack
Computer Graphic Artists:
Michael Baltazar
Dugan Beach
Kathleen Beeler
David Deuber
Lindy De Quattro
Vincent De Quattro
Jeff Ertl
Raúl Essig
Christian Foucher
Indira Guerrieri
Mark Hamilton
Andrew Hardaway
Russell Koonce
Erik Krumrey
Jeroen Lapre
Robert Marinic
Doug MacMillan
Michael Min
Jennifer Nona
Khatsho Orfali
Bruce Powell
Kimberly Ross
Alan Rosenfeld
Frederic Schmidt
Jeff Shank
Doug J. Smith
John Stillman
Doug Sutton
Andy Wang
Lead Compositors:
Tom Rosseter
Jeff Doran
Digital Compositors:
Jeffrey Arnold
Pat Brennan
Colin Campbell
Jay Cooper
Robyn Crane
Scott David
Jim Hagedorn
Sean Mackenzie
Irina Miloslavsky
Myles Murphy
Julie Neary
R.D. Wegener
Lead Animator:
Patrick Bonneau
Aaron Pfau
Mark Powers
Kim Thompson
Lead Digital Modeller, Martian:
George Aleco-Sima
Digital Modellers:
Andrew Cawrse
Larry Tan
Lead Viewpaint Artist:
Jean-Claude Langer
Viewpaint Artists:
Bridget Goodman
Terry Molatore
Lead Sabre Computer Graphics Artist:
Chad Taylor
Sabre Computer Graphics Artists:
Okan Ataman
Don Butler
Grady Cofer
Caitlin Content
Kela Hicks
Kevin May
Catherine Tate
Alex Tropiec
Dean Yurke
Rita Zimmerman
Digital Artists:
Shadi Almassizadeh
Billy Brooks
Erich Ippen
Louis Katz
Craig Lyn
Evan Pontoriero
Colie Wertz
Digital Matte Artists:
Brian Flora
Mark Sullivan
Wei Zheng
3D Camera Matchmover Supervisor:
Alia Agha
Lead Digital Paint Artist:
Mike Van Eps
Digital Paint/Rotoscope Artists:
Lance Baetky
Katie Baird
Michaela Calanchini
Kelly Fischer
Justin Graham
Cameron Griffin
Siobhan Lo
Aaron Muszalski
Zachary Sherman
Chief Model Maker:
John Goodson
Model Makers:
Richard Miller
Lorne Peterson
Visual Effects Plate Co-ordinator:
Margaret Lynch
Visual Effects Production Co-ordinators:
Julie Creighton
Marc Sadeghi
Visual Effects Editor:
Bill Kimberlin
Scanning Supervisor:
Josh Pines
Scanning Operators:
Mike Ellis
Joseph Goldstone
Todd Mitchell
Digital Plate Restorations:
Maria Goodale
Stephanie Taubert
Alan Travis
Director of Photography:
Patrick Sweeney
Temp Visual Effects Producer:
Heather MacDonald
Temp Visual Effects Co-ordinator:
Jeanmarie King
Technical Support:
Tim Fortenberry
Tim Greenwood
John Hanson
Dawn Martin
Jim Milton
Masi Oka
Angela Taylor
ILM Senior Staff:
Gail Currey
Jim Morris
Visual Effects
Dream Quest Images
Visual Effects Producer:
Rae Griffith-Gagnon
Co-visual Effects Producer:
Kristina Reed
Digital Producer:
Robert Schajer
Production Manager:
Crys Forsyth-Smith
Production Co-ordinator:
Mandy Kisthardt-Tankenson
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Darin Hollings
Digital Compositing Supervisor:
Blaine Kennison
Animation Supervisor:
Matthew O'Callaghan
CG Supervisors:
Scott Gordon
Teddy Yang
Senior Animators:
John Murrah
Steve Yamamoto
Steve Ziolkowski
Thanh 'John' Nguyen
Senior Lighters:
Mark Siegel
Colin Eckart
Adolph Lusinsky
Steven Knotts
Brian LaFrance
Chu Tang
Richard Liukis
Mark Lefitz
Francis P. Liu
Supervising Effects Animator:
Bruce Wright
Hookah Effects Animators:
Kee Nam Suong
Dale Mayeda
Steven Blakey
Alec Bartsch
Senior Effects Animators:
David Wainstain
Brian Lutge
Kevin Lee
Effects Animators:
Harry Gundersen
Simon O'Connor
Eric Pender
Rodney McFall
Erich Turner
Ron Arredondo
Scott Kilburn
Cesar Velazquez
Jason MacLeod
Merrick Rustia
Kenneth Kurras
Kenji Sweeney
3D Tracking Lead:
Louis Flores
3D Trackers:
Jon Aghassian
David Sudd
John Giffoni
Erin Fujioka
Hiroki Itokazu
David Mooy
Ardie Johnson
Supervising Compositor, Vortex Sequence:
Saki Mitchell
Lead Compositors:
Gina Warr-Lawes
Rory Hinnen
Dan Levitan
Senior Compositors:
Amy Pfaffinger
John Huikku
Brian Adams
Marc Scott
Tony Noel
Charles Meredith
Deborah Wiltman
Michael F. Miller
Kim O'Donnell
Lisa Tse
Daniel Miller
Brian Connor
Judith Bell
Gary Jackemuk
Jammie Friday
Daryl Klein
Roto/Digital Paint Artists:
Barbara Bordo
Kent Gordon
Frank Maurer
Marian Rudnyk
Doyle Smith

Matte Painting TD:
Kevin Willmering
Matte Painting Set Up:
Eric Hansen
Matte Painters:
Allen Battino
Paolo Deguzman
Roger Kupelian
Richard Mahon
Additional Matte Paintings/Composites:
Robert Scifo
Digital Co-ordinators:
Michael 'Makul' Wright
Deborah A. Nikkel
Kerry Shea
I/S Digital Co-ordinator:
Kathryn Liotta-Couture
Software TD:
Ron Moreland
Hookah Software Development:
Lewis Siegel
James Callahan
John Lewis
Digital Colour Timers:
Jay Cox
Elizabeth Cotter
Scanning/Recording Technicians:
David Booth
Mark Canas
Rick Lopez
Digital Systems Administration:
James Healy
John Kennedy
Kyle Kirkland
Rik Bomberger
Zachary Stokes
Roy Erickson
Paul Takahashi
Visual Effects Editor:
Kathy Chasen-Hay
Art Director:
Peter Lloyd
Jamie Rama
Collin Grant
Arthur Lee
Pre-visualization Animation:
Adam Dotson
Gail Harlow
Corey Hels
Erick Schiele
Bob Arvin
Director of Miniature Photography:
Scott Beattie
Stage Production Manager:
Carlton Ashley
Machine Shop Supervisor:
Reza Kasravi
Visual Effects Plate Manager:
David P. James
Motion Control Operator:
Kevin Fitzgerald
Survey Lead:
Matt Mueller
High Speed Director of Photography:
Michael Talarico
Special Effects Co-ordinator:
John Gray
Reelistic F/X
Special Effects Lead:
Chris Johnson
High-Speed Production Manager:
Keith B. Johnson
High-Speed Production Co-ordinator:
Vera Wagman
Miniature Effects Supervisor:
Scott Schneider
Miniature Effects Art Director:
George Trimmer
Mechanical Engineering Designer:
Robert Spurlock
CAD Designer:
Andre Chantreuil
Model Makers:
David Beasley
Eric Coon
Mykel Denis
Thomas Griep
Brent Heyning
Patrick Hinkle
John Hoffman
Eric Krogh
Logan Payne
Nicholas Seldon
Richard Slifka
Roy Stephens
Tamara Waters
Alex Watts
Kurt Zendler
Model Shop Department Manager:
Tony Meininger
Model Shop Co-ordinators:
Warren Farina
Lupe Cabrera
Special Visual Effects/Animation
Tippett Studio
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Brennan Doyle
Visual Effects Producer:
Alonzo Ruvalcaba
Associate Visual Effects Supervisor:
Eric Leven
Visual Effects Animation Lead:
Tim Teramoto
Visual Effects Animators:
Matt Hightower
Michael A. Miller
Stephanie Modestowicz
Visual Effects Software Development:
Darby Johnston
Animation Lead:
Eric Ingerson
Simon Allen
Robin Watts
Digital Paint Supervisors:
Joel Friesch
John McLaughlin
Sara Simon
Lighting Supervisor:
Mark Fattibene
Compositing Supervisor:
Jim McVay
Charles Granich
Zoe Peck-Eyler
Colin Epstein
Matt Jacobs
Guerdon Trueblood
Match Move Supervisor:
Chris Paizis
Match Move:
Dan Sukiennik
Garrett Honn
Jaynèe Howe
Jeff Johnson
Demetrius Leal
Lead Visual Effects Co-ordinator:
Alessandra De Souza
Visual Effects Co-ordinators:
Carol Corwin
Marty Holthaus
Visual Effects Editor:
Kevin Rose-Williams
Visual Effects General Manager:
Jules Roman
Additional Visual Effects
CIS Hollywood
Executive Visual Effects Producer:
C. Marie Davis
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Dr Ken Jones
Digital Compositing Supervisors:
Suzanne Mitus-Uribe
Gregory Ochler
Digital Paint/Rotoscoping:
Larry Gaynor
Visual Effects Producer:
Laurie McDonald
Digital System Manager:
Kit Young
Digital System Co-ordinator:
Adam Young
Visual Effects Editor:
Amy Tompkins
Wire Removal
Jim Henson's Creature Shop
The Orphanage LLC

Special Effects
Gary Elmendorf
Randy Shymkiw
David Heron
William Kennedy
Terry W. King
Roland Loew
Mark Obedzinski
Lead Fabricator:
Glen Marinello
Jay King
Thomas Pahk
Dan Clarke
Chris Davis
George Diamesis
Christian Eubank
Steven Ficke
Dennis Galozo
David Glendron
Marty Huculiak
Joseph Judd
Ian Korver
Wayne Magnison
Brian Nakazawa
Bryan Phillips
Alan Rifkin
Derrick Rockhill
Robert Rockhill
Walter Shemly
William Shourt
John Sleep
Grant Smith
Terry Wadd
Mike Wever
Vehicle Fabrication
Trans FX
Phil Weisgerber
Alessandro Zezza
Darryl Grijalva
Nathan Hranek
Jason Pope
Jay Brett
Max Dugal
Danny Long
Travis Ridgeway
Kirk Swanson
Curt Engelmann
Edmond Griswald
Allen Pike
Charley Zurian
Hollis Hedrich
Project Manager:
Jim Adamson
Design Manager:
Laurel Adamson
Shop Supervisor:
Scott Theis
Model Design:
Matthew James
Prop Maker:
Stephen Tyler
Electronic Control
Leah Hong
Display Graphic Engineer
Brian Callier
Computer Playback
Scott Steyns
Rey Astronomo
On-set Visual Technicians
Jordon Kidston
Caius Man
Additional Graphics
Trollbäck & Company
Art Directors
Thomas Valentine
Andrew Neskoromny
Set Designers
Peter Clemens
Janice Clements
John Dexter
Gary A. Lee
Kathleen Morrissey
Richard Reynolds
Marco Rubeo
Domenic Silvestri
Carl Stensel
Chris Stewart
Suzan Wexler
Set Decorator
Lin MacDonald
Conceptual Artist
Syd Mead
Technical Illustrator
Tim Flattery
Technical Designer
Kim Bailey
C.G. Illustrator
Timothy Wilcox
James Clyne
James Martin
Oliver Scholl
Storyboard Artist
Gabriel Hardman
Costume Designer
Sanja Milkovic Hays
Costume Supervisor
Garet Reilly
Costume Co-ordinator
Diana Patterson
Set Supervisor
Donna Cristiano
Key Make-up
Charles Porlier
Special Effects Make-up Design
KNB EFX Group Inc
Greg Nicotero
Scott Patton
Jake Garber
Luke Khanlian
Key Hairstylist
Kandace Loewen
Main/End Titles Designer
Nina Saxon/New Wave Entertainment
Cinema Research Corp
Executive in Charge of Music, Buena Vista Motion Picture Group
Kathy Nelson
Music Producer
Enrico DeMelis
Music Editors
Suzana Peric
Nick Meyers
Score Recordist/Mixer
Dan Wallin
"Happy Birthday to You" by Mildred J. Hill, Patty S. Hill; "Ma 'tit fille" by Stanley Dural Jr, performed by Buckwheat Zydeco; "Dance the Night Away" by Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth, performed by Van Halen
Adam M. Shankman
Sound Mixer
Rob Young
Technical Engineer
Avi Laniado
Tom Fleischman
Robert Fernandez
Lon Bender
Bob Olari
Paul Coburn
Supervising Sound Editors
Lon E. Bender
Maurice Schell
Dialogue Editors
Richard P. Cirincione
Laura Civiello
Lou Cerborino
Eytan Mirsky
Sound Effects Designers
Tony Lamberti
Harry Cohen
Dino DiMuro
Jon Title
Sound Effects Editors
Randy Kelly
Perry Robertson
Kerry Carmean
David Boulton
Jeff Hamon
Supervising Editors:
Harriet Fidlow
Chris Jargo
Editor, New York:
Gina R. Alfano
Gerald Donlan
Editors, Los Angeles:
Laura Graham
Dan Hegeman
Jim Moriana
Jeff Wilhoit
Greg Zimmerman
Nerses Gezalyan
Supervising Editor:
Glen T. Morgan

Craig Jaeger
David R. Scott
Robert Zubrin
Technical Consultants
Story Musgrave
Joseph P. Allen
Matt Golombek
Stunt Co-ordinators
Jeff Habberstad
Melissa R. Stubbs
Gary Sinise
Jim McConnell
Don Cheadle
Luke Graham
Connie Nielsen
Terri Fisher
Jerry O'Connell
Phil Ohlmyer
Kim Delaney
Maggie McConnell
Tim Robbins
Woody Blake
Peter Outerbridge
Sergei Kirov
Kavan Smith
Nicholas Willis
Jill Teed
Renée Coté
Elise Neal
Debra Graham
Marilyn Norry
Freda Perry
Lynda Boyd
Patricia Harras
NASA wives
Robert Bailey Jr
Bobby Graham
Chaynade Knowles
Jeff Ballard
Anson Woods
Britt McKillop
Jillian Hubert
children at party
Jody Thompson
Lucia Walters
Pamela Diaz
pretty girls
Sugith Varughese
2nd Capcom
Story Musgrave
3rd Capcom
Mina E. Mina
Carlo Rota
Dmitry Chepovetsky
Tracy Waterhouse
sobbing technician
McCanna Anthony Sinise
young Jim McConnell
Chantal Conlin
young Maggie
Jukka Joensuu
Bill Timoney
computer voice
Armin Mueller-Stahl
Ray Beck
Buena Vista International (UK)
tbc feet
tbc minutes
Dolby Ex/SDDS/DTS Digital sound
In Colour
Prints by
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011