Daily | Cannes 2013 | Ruairi Robinson’s THE LAST DAYS ON MARS

The Last Days on Mars

‘The Last Days on Mars’

“From Ghosts of Mars to Mission on Mars, red-planet movies tend come across as icily as its desolate terrain,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “To its credit, Ruairi Robinson’s The Last Days of Mars makes a concerted effort to elevate its setting to poetic heights, amplifying the solitude experienced by a handful of astronauts trapped on the surface with evocative imagery and keen minimalist style that owes a debt to Duncan Jones’s Moon. Unfortunately, these ingredients can’t salvage an uninspired plot that lacks the sense of wonder surrounding it.”

David Rooney sets it up in the Hollywood Reporter, ticking off the names of the impressive cast along the way: “Science officer Aldrich (Olivia Williams) is everyone’s least favorite space sister, her professional frustrations with the mission making her abrasive company. Still troubled by an anxiety episode during the voyage, Campbell (Liev Schreiber) attempts to stay mellow as he counts the hours to departure, finding comfort in his flirty banter with young medic Lane (Romola Garai). Cool-headed Captain Brunel (Elias Koteas) just tries to keep the crew’s wound-up emotions under control. When Russian officer Petrovich (Goran Kostic) encounters fossilized evidence in his lab research of a living organism, he says nothing to his colleagues. Unwilling to share the credit, he ventures outside to investigate, taking along Harrington (Tom Cullen) for backup, ostensibly to repair some equipment just as darkness is about to descend. But when Petrovich lifts a bacteria sample from the soil, a massive crater spontaneously forms, which spells bad news for everyone. Brunel leads a rescue foray to the site that brings more of the crew into contact with the virulent bacteria.”

Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: “The bacterium, however, turns out to have the nasty habit of turning crew members into grotesque and violent zombies (are there any other kind?). The story may be familiar, but the way Robinson has directed it is undeniably gripping. Mars is a nifty genre exercise, a lean, muscular and fast-moving B picture that shows that science-fiction smartly done on a budget can hold its own with anything.”

“Clearly, director Ruari Robinson has considerable visual talent,” writes Brian Clark at Twitch. “Coming from an effects background, his shorts like BlinkyTM and Fifty Percent Grey gave him enough clout to direct a feature, and it’s easy to understand why. Despite being made for probably a tenth of the budget of most Sci-Fi blockbusters, the Mars landscapes, complete with epic dust storms, and space travel are beautifully rendered. A few shots even carry an ethereal, haunting power that belong in a different movie. So why put these talents towards such a lame, self-serious retread of Alien and Ghosts of Mars?”

“At a time when a NASA rover called Curiosity is transmitting all manner of endlessly fascinating data from Mars’ surface,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang, “it’s dispiriting how little sense of possibility, wonder or basic novelty has been brought to bear on Clive Dawson’s script (adapted from Sydney J. Bounds’ short story ‘The Animators’), a few poetic outer-space shots and blinding-white celestial touches notwithstanding.”

That said, as Fionnuala Halligan points out in Screen, “The Last Days on Mars has a target audience which has proven itself resilient to the repetitiveness of clanking doors, creaking ships, and airlocks that must be reached within seconds.”

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