Oh boy I have been trying to see this well known classic sci-fi for a long time, the poster alone got me all excited. But lets just reflect on that poster quickly shall we. K so the poster clearly shows the huge infamous alien monster that this movie is famous for. So I kinda expected this big beastie to be the movies main antagonist you know…wrong! Nope alas its not, they clearly tried to make people think that and I can see why, but its not, such a pity.
OK so the plot, its the usual thing, its been repeated over and over and for some reason it still kinda works! But the main difference with this movie is the story is told in flashbacks by the female character after the entire event has occurred. The crew were thought to be lost in space but the ship turns up outta the blue. Eventually the remaining crew members are brought down to Earth and treated. Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) recounts what happened on their fateful mission.
A small team of astronauts are on the first manned exploration mission to Mars. Well I say astronauts (oh boy here we go again), but actually its the usual mix of military types, professors, specialists and doctors in science and chemistry or whatever. Naturally the team consists of three men and one female, the bit of totty on the side if you will (bit of casual sexism for you there Sir). Once reaching Mars they encounter many dangers and an alien city, but before they can investigate anything properly the team come under attack from the planets various lifeforms. Eventually they are forced to leave after suffering two casualties. Mars apparently a hostile celestial body in space.
The first thing you notice about this movie at the start is the large amount of stock footage used. As we watch the Earth based teams trying to bring the rocketship MR-1 back down to terra firma its easy to point out the stock footage, very easy. In all honesty the film is edited and cut together relatively well in these early scenes, and they do try to blend the stock footage with the live action footage. Unfortunately the obvious differences in film quality, lighting, equipment etc…lets this down, but kudos for trying. As for the interior of the MR-1…well its a bit of a disaster truth be told. This could be one of the worst spaceship interiors I’ve seen, it literally looks like a large square room in any random building. Many of the controls and gauges are on vertical cabinets against the wall, they have literal doors and windows and a few control panels in the middle of the room. It looks like an office for a 1950’s newspaper company.
After the usual shuddering effect of the camera to indicate the landing on Mars, the crew pretty much stand around and debate for quite some time. Eventually they venture out onto the surface and once again we get a red tinted effect on the film. This does work as we’ve seen before but this time it somehow effects the films quality. There’s a clash between the red tint and the footage causing a nasty blur effect all around everything which does actually limit visibility at times. I’m unsure if that was always there or if its just a fault on my copy or down to the age of the film. Anyway Mars turns out to be a barren red desert with spots of lush jungle! Within said jungle there appears to be lots of life such as large man-eating plants that…eat people. Damn good job the crew have this big gun thing that somehow turns its target into ice or whatever (its actually called a freeze ray, I kid you not).
Eventually (always eventually) the crew stumble across the first alien nasty, the huge spider/bat/rat thing which has to be one of the greatest alien creations ever. Now this thing was actually a large puppet combined with a smaller puppet and some stop motion animation. Even though this thing moved like a limp brick, and you could see the wires moving it, and its face was frozen in one expression, and its claws dragged along the ground hilariously…its still fecking awesome. Honesty its actually a really creepy design and I just wish it had more screen time in this movie to kill someone. Of course that would be hard seeing as it was a large immobile puppet but still, would have been cool.
Its later on that the crew finally discover an alien lake with a vast city on the other side, teasing you the viewer with anticipation. Well cork it bucko because we never get to the city, we never find out who really lives there and their history or anything. The reason being because the crew are attacked by a large piece of jelly with one big rotating eye when they try to cross the lake. Granted its another brilliant alien beastie and it kills one crew member by digesting him in clear view of the others (great stuff with nice effects), but you want the crew to reach the city dagnabbit. I should point out that like some alien plants earlier, the city is actually a hand drawn image, a very good hand drawn image but clearly a drawing. The whole alien city aspect is just one side plot that never really goes anywhere. We do actually get brief glimpses of an alien city dweller, the presumed intelligent life on Mars that inhabit the city (a very bad and crudely made three eyed alien suit), but again it doesn’t go anywhere, you don’t find out. We are basically left asking many questions and itching for more exploration.
A few more camera judders and its blast off! Back home to Earth, but not before the main lead crew member gets infected by the jelly monster and the eldest crew member kicks the bucket from a heart attack…original! We then come full circle and back to Dr. Ryan who has been recalling the events to the military types and doctors. At first you think the bloke with the infected arm might cause some kind of alien disease that could begin to wipe out mankind, ending the movie with a cliffhanger…nope, they cure it. So what can I say about this journey to the wilds of Mars, its certainly an eye opener. I was left disappointed by the misleading movie poster and the fact that so much is dangled in your face yet left unexplored and up in the air. The film needs a sequel it seems. Yet despite that its still a solid hokey sci-fi adventure with lots of creatures, some pleasing visual effects and plenty of those cliched stereotypical characters we all know and love so much from these golden oldies.