'Planet' crashes onto screens with overblown effects

Movie distributors give critics propaganda packets - whoops, I mean production information - to accompany their new releases, but these materials aren't always as effective as the studios hope. Take the information for "Red Planet" given out by Warner Bros. at preview screenings. "Though loaded with more than 900 visual effects," it read, "it was the film's human element that most intrigued [director Antony] Hoffman."

Yeah, right. Here's a science-fiction epic with a walloping budget, a gigantic special-effects crew, and a list of producers who include pictures like "The Matrix" and the "Lethal Weapon" series among their credits. And we're supposed to believe it's all about the "human element" rather than action, adventure, runaway robots, and creepy-crawly aliens?

The heroes are an astronaut crew sent to Mars in 2050 to find out why Earth's preparations for colonizing the planet have mysteriously failed. An emergency landing wrecks their well-laid plans, deluging them with deadly threats including a dwindling oxygen supply, an escape vehicle too small for them all to fit in, and a robot assistant that looks like a mechanical dog but acts like a ninja warrior when its circuits get scrambled. Who will live and who will die? Look for the guy and gal aiming love-struck gazes at each other, and rest assured they'll be around when the final credits roll.

The screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin spices its science-fiction cliches with occasional pop-theology cliches, giving the tale a nebulous New Age touch; but the movie has as much genuine concern for spirituality as for the "human element" touted by the press kit. Look for "Red Planet" to crash as resoundingly at the box office as its heroes do on Mars.

Rated PG-13; contains violence, nudity, and foul language.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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