Monday, 14 April 2014



In theory, this is precisely the kind of film I love. I've always been a sucker for movies in spaceships, space stations and interplanetary expeditions, from Alien and 2001 (most of it, anyway) through to the likes of Event Horizon or Supernova: set the thing on a spaceship or an orbiter and as far as I'm concerned you're halfway there. Obviously there's some absolute garbage in this particular subgenre: the amateur night idiocy of Dracula 3000 or the screaming manure of Apollo 18, but generally speaking I'm more excited by a Titan Find or an Inseminoid than perhaps I should. And if not a spaceship, then Mars: Red Planet, two recent movies called Stranded (neither of them terrible), Brian De Palma's flawed but fascinating Mission To Mars....

So maybe I liked The Last Days On Mars a smidgen more than it perhaps deserves purely on its genre genetics. With just 20 hours left of a six-month research mission (including Liev Schrieber, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams and Elias Koteas) to a bleak Martian dustbowl before the lander picks them up to take them back to Earth, one of the team suddenly finds traces of microscopic biological activity - life - and rushes off to claim his discovery rather than leave it for the next team to claim the glory. But this new bacterium starts to infect the humans, turning them into undead zombie monsters and picking the remainder off one by one....

So it's a bit like Alien, a bit like Event Horizon, a bit like Red Planet. And on my way out of the cinema I had a brief chat with someone who'd sat behind me, and he reckoned it was a close cousin of a film called The Dark Side Of The Moon, which I did see back in 1990 but I'd completely forgotten about in the intervening 24 years (though needless to say I am now itching to revisit). Originality is hardly the film's strong suit, but then it's a throwback movie harking back to the days of the kind of cheap spacebound quickies that used to turn up as video premieres on Guild and Medusa Home Video, so unoriginality is in its DNA. And I don't necessarily mind second hand plotting if it's done well enough, and to my mind it is here.

It's a throwaway movie as well as a throwback one: strangely it hit UK cinemas two days after it appeared on Netflix USA, which is really its natural home. Yet for all its faults (awful dialogue, simplistic characters, general cheesiness) I had a lot of fun watching it in a largely empty multiplex screen: it's the kind of SF movie I go for rather than the airless artiness of something like Under The Skin, even when it gets silly (if there's no pulse, surely there's no blood flow around the body, so what's the point in injecting drugs?). Yes, The Last Days On Mars is utter tosh, but it's perfectly good tosh. A UK/Ireland co-production, with Jordan standing in for the Martian wastelands.


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