Friday, February 15, 2019

Mission Mars

Mission Mars
Nicholas Webster

Mission Mars starts out as a rote ‘Astronauts go into space movie.’ There is the joking and camaraderie of the three leads, we get a glimpse of two of their spouses so that there is some kind of emotional tension there when the danger happens. We even get the sort of gee-whiz technical jargon about the launch and a heaping of Mars factoids that might have been fresh in the 1950s but feels played out by 1968. There is a definite ‘been there done that’ feel to the first 40 minutes, but once our crew finally makes it to Mars, things get a lot more interesting.

We’re warned something is amiss when the Americans find two dead Soviet cosmonauts adrift in space. The surface of Mars is colorful, desolate, and threatening. Here they find a third cosmonaut seemingly flash frozen. There is also a strange Art Deco statue of flat panels and lights that proves to be a threat. The adventure gives way to the sinister and the unknown as it descends into horror at points. Someone is graphically blinded and burned. Mission Mars never explains its threat, is it a Martian? An explorer from somewhere else? Something even more monstrous?
Wanting sex or staring into the 8th dimension? You decide.
Our three heroes are likable enough, although a) Darren McGavin delivers the creepiest horny face I’ve seen in a long time and b) His idea of foreplay is using a towel to whip the legs out from under his unsuspecting wife. Nick Adams plays his usual low-key character, and George De Vries plays a guy with no last name or wife, so you can guess who is going to die right away. Heather Hewitt and Shirley Parker play the Earthbound wives, Edith and Alice. Wives pining for their lost husbands are rarely exciting roles, and here they are no exception.

The music is some highly groovy jazz and surf rock during the first half that gives way to more ethereal tones once the crew lands on Mars. The goofy opening theme is either highly inappropriate or a clever fake-out depending on how much trust you put into the director, Nicholas Webster. This is the same man who brought us Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). In some ways, this plays like the flip-side to that film, for here, Mars almost certainly does the conquering.
The traffic lights of Altair 4.
Like Planet of the Vampires (1965) and The Green Slime (1968) just three years before, Mission Mars plays up the horror of space exploration. There’s no friendly alien or universal truth to discover, just something unknowable and mean. Despite this element, Mission Mars isn’t dour at all, in fact, it remains relatively upbeat for most of its running time, which creates this strange tension between what is happening to the trio of astronauts and how it is being presented. Mission Mars starts out banal and then becomes something far more odd and interesting. Its difficulty to acquire and relative obscurity only make it that much more curious. I’ve revisited this film several times and I will certainly be going back to it again. Mission Mars is an oddity that is worth exploring.

Mom warned me not to sit too close to the TV and I DIDN'T LISTEN!!!

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