Friday, November 1, 2013

Movie Review—The Last Days on Mars

Back in Elementary School I checked a book out of the school library. This book was an anthology of short stories called Creepies, Creepies, Creepies. It ended up being one of the most important books I've ever read, for in the pages of this formative anthology I would read, for the first time, stories by Bram Stoker, William Hope Hodgson, Robert Bloch, and H. P. Lovecraft. After reading these stories, I began to devour other horror stories, both old and new, but this anthology has always remained one of my favorites, for in my memories, it's the first adult horror anthology I'd ever read.

One of the other stories in the book was a short one called "The Animators," by Sydney J. Bounds. I'd never read anything by him before this book, and unlike the four authors I've mentioned above... I never read anything by him since. But "The Animators" stuck in my  mind as surely as did any story from the book; a grim, depressing, dark, and rather frightening story about a crew of scientists on Mars who discover a form of life that, when it infects a dead body, animates the body into something akin to a violent zombie! One of the most horrifying aspects of the story was that the hero was being pursued by relentless zombies across the Martian landscape. The hero was running low on oxygen... but the zombies, of course, were not... he was faster, but the faster he ran, the more oxygen he used... and if he died before the rescue ship arrived and he could warn them... then the animators would reach Earth!

So it shouldn't surprise you that when I'd heard "The Animators" was being adapted into a movie, I was hopeful and wary.

The Last Days on Mars just debuted on Halloween on numerous streaming sites online—it's going to have a theatrical release in December, but I was done waiting. I fired up the old Xbox and paid the 10 bucks to rent it... and I'm happy to say I was NOT disappointed! It's an independent and relatively low-budget movie, but it looks really good! Not only are the effects well done, and not only is the acting and writing also excellent... but this is the first movie set on Mars that looks like it could have actually been set there. The outdoor scenes look like what we're seeing from NASA, in other words, not deserts filmed through red filters. When things go bad, they stay bad and quickly escalate, but there's plenty of moments for character development that enhances the story as we go. The end is slightly different in the movie from the book... but only physically—as far as themes go, it nails it.

Whew... I'm relieved!
Wonder how many actual missions to Mars will, ultimately, come down to this in the end?

The Last Days on Mars...
  • ... managed the nearly impossible task of not disappointing me after over 3 decades of fond memories of the original story first making an impression on me.
  • ... follows in the footsteps of this year's Europa Report and Gravity in presenting some impressive and mature and disturbingly believable outer-space thrills.
  • ... features "zombies" more akin to the maniacs from 28 Days Later than the truly undead monsters from Dawn of the Dead.
  • ... captures the sense of dread in the story that arises from the knowledge that you have limited air and resources that don't bother the things that are increasingly trying to get you.
  • ... convinced me that if I'm ever a scientist on a Martian laboratory that I shouldn't leave the power drill just lying around.
  • ... is thankfully free of people doing stupid things just to advance the plot—when the captain orders someone to "stay out of the creepy hole in the Martian landscape," they do. It doesn't matter in the end, of course!
Grade: A–

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