Saturday 9 July 2011

Films: Mission to Mars (2000), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Mission to Mars had somehow avoided appearing on my radar until I spotted it on the TV schedules recently, so I thought it might be worth a look. The plot is straightforward (spoiler warning!): a manned mission to Mars goes wrong when some mysterious power kills three of the four astronauts on the surface, and evidence of alien intelligence appears. A rescue mission is duly launched in order to recover the survivor and discover what happened, leading to a suitably dramatic and revelatory conclusion.

The start, at a party for those leaving on the first mission, is not too promising; it features the usual emotional scenes complete with cute kid (a standard Hollywood cliche) before skipping several months to when the mission is securely based on Mars. The interest level then begins to rise with the disaster to the first mission and the launch of the second, from which point it becomes sufficiently involving to hold the attention to the end. Having said that, there are no great surprises and it's generally possible to predict what's going to happen next. Worst of all is the really corny dialogue: on several occasions I was able to predict precisely what the next speaker was going to say, word for word.

It isn't a bad film and is just about worth watching, but Mission to Mars has a very old-fashioned air and (CGI apart) feels as if it could have been made several decades earlier.


As regular readers of this blog may recall, I am not a particular fan of the Harry Potter series; I have only read the first of the books. However, I have seen all of the films so I naturally had to see the penultimate one.

I obviously don't know if this also applies to the books, but the nature of the films has evolved quite strikingly. The first ones were fun if rather silly. They improved in the middle of the series and became rather good, before becoming increasingly dark and grim. This trajectory is continued in this offering, which is very dark indeed in all respects; the picture on the TV screen was so dim that I had to draw the curtains to darken the room in order to see what was happening.

If you haven't seen any of the earlier films this is most definitely not the place to begin. As with the previous episode, the screenplay assumes that viewers know everything that has happened beforehand and plunges straight into the action without even the vaguest attempt at an explanatory backstory. That had me scratching my head to try to recall what had happened in the last film, which I saw well over a year ago. Also like the previous episode, there is no attempt at a conclusion; the film stops abruptly in mid-story. In between, what happens is basically a horror film; a series of grim setbacks and disasters affecting the usual trio of heroes, ameliorated only a little by an occasional success.

I concluded my review of the previous Potter film with these words: "Despite these criticisms this is a reasonably entertaining film, but it is perhaps the least successful of the series in dramatic terms." The Deathly Hallows Part 1 does not merit even such lukewarm praise in my judgment; it is not enjoyable, and is definitely the least successful to date. As far as I'm concerned, the final episode is going to have to up its game considerably to recover the reputation of the series. As it has just been released, no doubt I will discover that in due course.


Bill Garthright said...

Excellent reviews, Tony. I haven't seen either movie, but I don't think I need to.

Re. the Harry Potter books, they not only got darker, but longer, too. The last book in particular should have been tightened up and shortened considerably. Well, I guess when you've become that wildly successful an author, editors probably stop objecting to anything.

At any rate, that's probably why they had to film it in two parts - and why it wasn't particularly successful (at least the first part, just like the first part of the book), too.

MithrilQuill said...

I liked reading your review of the Harry Potter film from the perspective of someone who hadn't read the book. As a fan of the books I've been growing increasingly annoyed with the lack of explanation provided in the movies.

It started with the fourth movie, though that at least, was still comprehensible, but with the fifth the movies began to be just a series of randomly chosen scenes from the books(and sometimes not from the books) without a proper flow/plotline.

WCG mentioned the books getting longer - I agree about the seventh one needing to be tighter - many fans were disappointed with that book compared to the rest of the series, but if you've watched all the movies it might be worthwhile to try reading the books. I would recommend starting with the third book, or, if you didn't like the third movie, starting with the fifth book.

M Pax said...

I've seen both films. Mission to Mars was all right. I remember more about it than the Deathly Hallows 1. What was it about? I've seen the other movies and felt lost. Then there really wasn't an ending. It was just over.