Ruairi Robinson’s “The Last Days On Mars” sure picked one hell of a time to unveil. With sci-fi stunners like “Europa Report” and Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar heavyweight “Gravity” already lighting up the screen so far this year, it appears this horrific space adventure is a tad too late to the party. That being said, although it certainly doesn’t measure up to its brethren’s immense successes, this little tale about a group of astronauts fighting off their colleagues turned space-zombies offers up a few moments of pure brilliance and one heck of a soundtrack. Make no mistake, this flick is only related to the previously mentioned gems by label only. Their content, premises, and aspirations are in no way alike. While all three are technically science-fiction, their sub-genres greatly differ. “Gravity” is more of a thriller, “Europa Report” a mix between mockumentary and drama, and our current subject “The Last Days On Mars,” is without question, a horror. So one must critique accordingly.
Reading through some of the more harsh reviews out there, I noticed terms like “over-saturation” and “generic” getting tossed around, not to mention the opinion floating about that another perfectly sublime sci-fi epic was ruined by falling back to convention and common ploys. Then you have those claiming that ”The Last Days On Mars” failed when compared to the genre’s efforts this year, and to their credit, they’re idiotically accurate. Of course it crumbles when lining it up alongside films like “Gravity,” the two aren’t even in the same league! All this criticism does is make it easy for those on the fence to get caught up in the negativity surrounding “The Last Days On Mars” and disparage it all together. When in actuality, it’s anything but your run-of-the-mill space horror. The acting is strong, the visuals breathtaking, and the soundtrack rivals those of past, great sci-fi epics. There is value here, one just needs to look beyond the mistakes.
“The Last Days On Mars” is a lot like a plate of food you receive at a fancy banquet hall or that someone has ordered for you…instead of throwing it away, just pick around what you don’t like. Sure, you could be a baby about it and toss the whole meal out all together and miss out on something spectacular, or you can live a little and swallow the occasional bitterness just to say you had. This film, this plate, this smorgasbord of space, spectacle, sensation, and slaughter might be chaotic, inconceivable, and tired, but it’s also beautiful, stimulating, and rewarding. I can tell you in confidence that there is a hell of a lot things I genuinely loved about “The Last Days On Mars,” and yeah, a few that didn’t sit well with me. Yet, I’m not going to throw something away just because I don’t particularly like or agree with all of it, which is what a lot of viewers seem to be doing with this polarizing look at exploration and discovery.
Director Ruairi Robinson makes his full-length feature debut with “The Last Days On Mars,” and for the most part, it’s a reassuring, impressive one at that. He’s a little shaky from time to time, but doesn’t get too comfortable in his mistakes. At times, his quick movements and jumping around will nauseate you a tad, but other than a few questionable scenes, it’s a successful outing. There’s moments he captures of such beauty and atmosphere that they’ll leave you shaking your head in disbelief. If there is a weak spot in the film, it’s the screenplay. Scribed by Clive Dawson, the structure can seem nonexistent at times and the story a little worn out. That being said, there are some lines of dialogue that blew me away and moments of excellent substance that make up for any wrong doings.
Max Richter, who’s probably best known for his musical contributions to Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” composes the original score for this flick…and what a score it is. I mean, What can I say? After I finished watching “The Last Days On Mars” I went and bought the soundtrack…that’s probably the best summary I can give. Go and give it a listen, you won’t be disappointed. As for the cast, led by Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Romola Garai, I felt they really grounded the film, gave it that human element is desperately needed. They frequently executed Dawson’s dialogue to heartbreaking effectiveness and melded into a dysfunctional, occasionally funny family on the edge of collapse and death in the middle of nowhere. Granted, things could have been a little stronger and consistent on the acting front, but for what they’re given, this cast does a respectable job.
Look, this ain’t Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” Duncan Jones “Moon,” or Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” It has similar themes, motivations…you know, some fragments of those films, but not to the same extent, nor is it as thoroughly executed. Odds are if zombies in space isn’t a flavour you prefer, this film isn’t for you. That being said, its stunning visuals, transcendent score, and powerful characters make “The Last Days On Mars” a notch above the genre’s drivel, enough anyway to make it recommended viewing.