2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
When I first watched this movie some 20 + years ago, I turned it off. The science in the movie was just that bad. In the 1940's when the book was originally written, it was passable, now it is nearly cult classic folly. When you add to it the slow moving drama and mediocre acting from a 1970's has-been cast, it is a turn off.
However, much of science fiction is moralistic, making a statement about human society in a way that shelters the author from criticism. In that regard, this movie was good science fiction. There are several major theme points. These are brought out by the opening flashback scenes shown at the beginning of each episode. The theme is that people are selfish. They "see nothing but their own dreams." They can't respect other people's point of view. This is shown in the colonization of America, er ah Mars, and in politics both domestic and on the world stage until we bring ourselves to ruin. A Martian eventually dies as everybody wants him to be a different person.
At one point two monks are talking when one says, "Can't you see the human in the inhuman?" A theme reference to the human aspect of inhumanity. Other memorable lines are "I finally get to meet a Martian and I shot him." And when the Martian gives Rock Hudson the secret of living, "Anyone with eyes can see the way to live."
By the third episode, Earth and Mars are nearly completely dead. A man named Benjamin is alone and manages to meet Bernadette Peters, perhaps the last woman in existence. In a dark comedy moment, Bernadette is more concerned about how she looks, even though there is no one to look at her, than say the destruction of civilization. She didn't go back to Earth because they wouldn't let her take all of her clothes. At this point in the film I felt the producers missed the opportunity of doing a complete re-write of the script, turning it into a classic dark comedy. However for the sake of purity to the book they didn't do that. In that regard, the movie also contained occasional needless narration.
After Benjamin decides he would rather live alone than with Bernadette Peters, the movie digresses into hokey when the subliminal message of the movie becomes too overt. I think a Coen Brothers remake with George Clooney in the Rock Hudson role would be fantastic.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2014
WARNING!!! SPOILER ALERT - I describe some of the story lines in this film.
Being so excited by watching this three hour mini-series again (for the 10th time) I automatically reached for my pocket sized "The Observer Book of Astronomy" circa 1962, revised 1967, by the late great Patrick Moore (did he and Bradbury ever meet?) to read this astounding description, prescient or naïve, of Mars pages 189-190:
"It is highly probable (the dark patches) are due to vegetation of some sort...not likely to be advanced...it must be remembered, too, that the Martian deserts are decidedly chilly by our standards. (There) might be true canals dug by intelligent Martians to convey water from snowy poles to the arid regions of the equator. This idea was strongly supported by Percival Lowell, an American observer who paid great attention to Mars between 1894 and his death in 1916. Few modern authorities have any belief in man made canals on Mars. (But) the planet cannot be regarded as overwhelmingly hostile, and the existence of vegetation can hardly be denied, though there is as yet no positive proof."
#HASH TAG UPDATE# Yesterday the Mars Rover on its daily trundles - yes it is still sniffing, scratching and scooping access the latest online - has just detected traces of methane...ehmmm.
Published just two years before the Apollo Moon landings of 1969! What a great preface! The film makes Bradbury's point early on, that what you find or "discover" depends upon where you land and what you can observe.
I have this idea that everybody has a spaceship inside them heading for Mars. It only takes a few basic facts to put it there - Mars is a red planet; you can see it in the sky with the naked eye; it is humanly possible to get there with superhuman effort; after the Moon it is the next frontier for Mankind; another chance reach out and test ourselves and put aside all the current petty troubles; it may have once supported life; we already have tangible knowledge of it; we are committed to go - these plus the over lapping stories, ideas and myths and legends. Even the titles of Star Trek has the SS Enterprise circling a red planet suspiciously like Mars. So we come, nurtured from birth as it were, half prepared to enjoy this dramatisation of Bradbury's sublime Martian tales.
The rave reviews speak for themselves. What completes our enjoyment is the quality of the production itself. Most reviewers recognise that a galaxy of fine actors - obviously enjoying their roles - offering fine characterisations which bring to life the author's amazing ability to drill down into human nature. In a series of interlinked all too credible situations we are shown the essential truth: wherever we go we have to take ourselves and our baggage with us - our ideology and theology, our petty weaknesses too, carelessness, competitiveness, greed and vanity as well as our essential practicality and adaptability and dreams.
It makes for a thrilling adventure and involving drama because Bradbury is a cut above virtually every other writer in this field. He knows how to write, to turn out memorable poetic phrases and uncover and develop interesting even strange ideas, he carries the reader with him to the last page as only a great novelist can and his works have real literary value. His later short stories carry just as much weight as this early writing being thoroughly grounded in the human condition: be it space or the Red Planet, or the streets of Paris at night.
Genius that he was, nothing can disguise a certain disenchantment caused by financial loss, when he aired his dislike of the production at a later stage. Bradbury, a struggling writer in the 1930s pulp fiction trade, sold the stories for a miserable $500, to pay the bills. He rued that day from then on - none of the royalties went to him above a minor consultancy and promotional fee. Hence the post production gripes.
As a string of loosely related high impact Martian stories originally written for publication by instalments, there were problems developing a successful screenplay. The experienced Richard Matheson achieved a good outcome, I think, creating a logical story for film which seems to mirror the book. Some of the film is almost identical to the books, elsewhere Bradbury apparently actually worked with Matheson - some of the scenes being completely re-written by him. Certainly there is a touch of authenticity over the whole project which would have been drowned out in a modern remake with the bog standard bag of digital effects and fast action editing coupled with an ear bashing soundtrack. That certainly would NOT have been true to the spirit of the original.
Despite the overwhelming impression that much of the fan base, in the reviews here, is fairly middle aged and over, as indeed am I, there is a perceptive and discriminating younger generation who are happy to fuse an appreciation of retro and vintage with current and modern up-to-date.
One thing I always liked about this adaptation is its strong narrative emphasis, in order to emphasize the "chronicles" nature of the story, where at crucial times the viewer is given a macro view through an impressively warm voiced narrator whose tone is at variance with the clinical disinterested content of his summing up. Just for info, the narration is achieved by the veteran actor Phil Brown, known chiefly for his role in Star Wars, blacklisted by the McCarthy/Reagan anti-communist bandwagon in the 1950s. Hollywood's loss was London's gain.
For example, at the burial scene of the Third Expedition on the edge of an illusory Mid-West town - the sort Bradbury himself was happily raised. Incidentally, capped by a breath taking transitional effect where the greenery and trees melt away to reveal the reality of a windy, stony cold, pink Martian desert. Indeed some of the special effects work superbly - much better than on any other film I can think off, despite the defects only too well highlighted by other reviewers: for example again, the depiction of the Old Ones in line with the book as shining blue globes of energy is well done, as are the body morphing scenes where Humans change into Martians and vice versa. I am perfectly happy with the retro feel of this side of the film and believe a new generation of viewers would also appreciate and find much amusement in it. But that is not where the money or where the interest lay in this project.
Or the clinical description of the familiar ant farm activities of human construction on Mars, where a homesteading Western Frontier ethos is clearly referenced:
"The rockets came like drums, beating in the night. The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms of rosy smoke. And from the rockets ran men with hammers in their hands to beat the strange world into a shape that was familiar to the eye. In six months a dozen small towns had been laid down on the naked planet, filled with sizzling neon tubes and yellow electric bulbs. In all some ninety thousand people came to Mars, and more, on Earth, were packing their grips..."
And, with lines probably added by Bradbury himself specially for the screen play: "
But this film has a literary heart - it is not an over hyped over blown block buster with literary references tacked on off a roll of handy quotations. (Ref, Interstellar and the tacky use of Dylan Thomas's poetry) Has any modern space film examined or argued the issues, beyond a purely superficial level, surrounding Manifest Destiny in space as clearly as here in this wonderful thinking man's epic?
The eventual budget of $8 million (a small fortune for a TV mini series) compares well with the $13 million for Robocop filmed in the same year of 1987. A great deal was spent on the acting talent - with good reason - Bradbury's Chronicles throw up a raft of interesting characters.
The lynch pin of course was Rock Hudson who virtually held the whole thing together (Matheson wrote the pivotal character of Col. Wilder into every scene in order to provide continuity to the different stories and themes) helping himself to the lion's share of the salaries. Rock took about 15% of the entire budget, about a million dollars.
Here, in '87 Hudson was in his prime. There wasn't a trace of the later devastating illnesses (a quintuple bypass in 1982 followed soon by AIDs) and his profile is totally in tune with the rugged handsome character he portrays. Beyond his physical appearance on screen, there is the gravitas of early middle age which Hudson deploys at certain points to good effect: the commander; the family man; the brother; the concerned neighbour; the insightful medium - a man who fully understands the potential and legacy of the new planet. Another aspect of his great if understated acting in this film - which may amount to his last really good role - is the sense of vulnerability and an inner confusion which reminded me of his early impressive role in "Seconds", John Frankenheimer's 1960s film noir creepy shocker. Above that there is a degree of relaxed confidence in his portrayal in no doubt due to the experience of his very successful 20 week tour of stages across America with Leif Erikson (High Chaparral) and Claire Trevor in "John Brown's Body" a civil war drama. In all it adds up to a dignified restrained performance which entirely meets the demands of the script.
The rest of the cast is top drawer:
Darren McGavin - a whole bundle of fun (somewhat random, scatty, memories of Night Stalker?) and touching too, when his get rich quick schemes bottom out, - look how he crumples, minus toupee, later on in the film! An excellent Queen of Broadway Joyce Van Patten supports with good humour.
Roddy McDowell: mad monk on a quest infused with religious fervour slowly wearing down his long suffering brother, Fritz Weaver.
Christopher Connelly and Bernadette Peters perform a hilarious comic turn as the last red blooded ardent male and an entirely self-centered last woman left on Mars (BBC feminists shut your eyes!) its sheer theatricality almost made for her as a taste of her later triumphs on Broadway.
A stellar cast of English actors and actresses comprise the Martian contingent (why?) perhaps allowed in due to the half million stumped up by the BBC for UK screen rights: the always arresting Jon Finch (if you think he is anguished here as Jesus Christ via a telepathic Martian on the run, catch his Macbeth for Polanski, the best portrayal on film? Or for that matter, the increasingly strained wrong man in Hitchcock's last movie "Frenzy") Terence Longdon, Maggie Wright, James Faulkner.
Nyree Dawn Porter gives what is possibly the most disturbingly life-like impersonation of a robot on film, with her equally chilling "daughter", in her total absence of emotion - nothing behind dead eyes - when "her" husband played by the veteran Canadian actor Barry Morse (familiar from the British TV series Space 1999) succumbs to a heart attack mid scene. Wilder (word for word in the book) asks,
"Do you know what has just happened?"
"Something about my husband?"
"He's just passed away; his heart," said Wilder, watching her.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"He didn't want us to feel badly. He told us it would happen one day and he didn't want us to cry. He didn't teach us how, you know. He said it was the worst thing that could happen to a man to know how to be lonely to be sad and then to cry. So we're not to know what crying is, or being sad."
Wilder glanced at her hands. He saw her slender, smooth white neck and her intelligent eyes. Finally he said, "Mr Hathaway did a fine job on you and your children"
"He would have liked to hear you say that. He was so proud of us. After a while he even forgot he made us...Mr Hathaway was quite happy. There's only one thing he couldn't make us do," she said. "And that was to grow old. He got older every day, but we stayed the same. I guess he didn't mind. I guess he wanted us this way."
There is a chilling lack of insight into cause and effect - she or "it" speaks of the death of Hathaway which has just happened, as if it was an event from some time back, a remembered or re-called event, as if the grief process had already resolved itself. This is the sort of insight into the true nature of human uniqueness and our purchase on reality which can never be duplicated in a robot or computer, which I find remarkably isolated in Bradbury's vision. His vision of a possible form of AI is rigorously intellectual. Others are not. Artificial intelligence as portrayed today in films such as I-Robot, AI and probably Ex_Machina where there is a tendency to dwell on the special effects possibilities in the subject matter and its shallow emotional interactions on a superficial level rather than drill down into the deeper nature of difference and reality. Full marks to Bradbury and the Director of these Chronicle, Michael Anderson, who patiently does not let this insight disappear in the pressure of adapting the novel to the challenging demands of TV where the demand for continuous action or forward momentum often throws up unsatisfying shallow plots and larger than life caricatures rather than plot development and fully rounded people let alone ideas.
I actually quoted at length from the book because it is authentically reproduced in the film and extremely well handled especially by Hudson as Colonel Wilder. The extreme critics of this series that were waiting in the wings even before it was aired in 1987 and which have climbed out of the woodwork since (this website at is probably the most prejudiced if you want an ANTI view of this mini-series) actually lose sight of the overall achievement in their plethora of quibbles and sharp attacks: the adaptation faithfully recreates the literary and intellectual essence of the novels. In particular the charge of "slowness" and "dead hand" of the direction is almost inevitable when a filmed version so painstakingly attempts to remain faithful to the original in its scope and depth of ideas.
Compare for example the over-developed, over-seasoned treatment of robotics and artificial intelligence in the Hollywood Spielberg/Kubrick blockbuster "AI" with this short but infinitely richer tale in the Chronicles! Only, in my experience, does the Swedish TV series "Real Humans" (alas, only available in French and German subtitled formats) attempt to dramatize and explore the issues of a future society where robots reside by side with people. Intelligence in "AI" is severely lacking; in The Martian Chronicles there is SO MUCH intelligence the director, Michael Anderson, had to take his time...More than that, while in retrospect Anderson's direction can be criticised because it is a slower paced approach that allows the story to breathe we must allow for the changes in taste and the subject matter of the film. A director who was responsible for one of the most successful Hollywood blockbusters ever made, Michael Todd's Around the World in Eighty Days, should not be so easily dismissed.
Bradbury clearly delineates different types arriving on Mars: the get rich prospector, the men of God, the eccentric isolated expat, the hustler, the industrious homesteader and entrepreneur, and others, it is all there.
Gayle Hunnicutt takes the comparatively unrewarding role of Wilder's wife. Bernie Casey as a Martian freedom fighter and Michael Anderson Junior, the director's son, as an "adopted" Martian complete the brilliant line up. In fact, by working hard to achieve a screen blandness, conveys with startling effect the ability of the remaining Martians to telepath, to adapt and mould themselves, into the settlers' homes and lives. He was also in his father's futuristic "Logan's Run" - which is not as bad as some critics make out - and interesting roles in TV series such as Hawaii 5 "O" (a mixed up draft dodger on the run for a murder rap) and The Streets of San Francisco (episode "Asylum") or the screen role of the younger brother in the Sons of Katie Elder with John Wayne, shows he became rather type cast.
Bernie Casey in particular as the only black member of the cast is placed in the ironic position of opposing what "he" (he = because we never really know whether in fact "he" is human or Martian) perceives to be the racial apartheid of human interference on Mars. The colonial timeline/clock is ticking loudly in this film. Is Mars merely to become a replica of so much that has stained human history on Earth?
I spotted a bit of graffiti just today on my bike ride round London: "Respect existence or expect Resistance!" Wow! As grass roots opposition to government anti-democratic policies bubbles up - even in our schools and on our streets - the issues broached by Bradbury and accurately dramatized in this film are even more relevant today. After the Martian shoot out (possibly the least convincing part of the film) in which Bernie Casey's character is inevitably killed, Wilder says "Has it come to this?" Sure has captain.
The last couple that has a story to themselves playing one of the "types" set down on the new planet involves East European settlers played by highly experienced German actors Maria Schell and Wolfgang Reichmann, including Anderson Jr. as the telepathic long lost Martian/son. Interestingly, here the subject is actually an INVERSION of the other plot lines. They are retracing the past to hang on to the lost memory of a dead son. The colonial impetus here is to recover a lost past in the present.
So the full story of colonisation is not that of expansion. A lot of it has to do with a reactionary impulse to recreate, on an elaborate scale, the past in a new setting. In fact the dissolution of what could have become a carbon copy ex-pat colony, a nineteenth century Simla in India or present day Costa del Sol in Spain, with all its narrowness and limitations, becomes the theme of the closing chapter in these Chronicles. To move on we sometimes have to destroy the past - I wish the backward looking mind set of the heritage precious public in the UK would understand that. Of course, as an American through and through, Bradbury is entirely comfortable with the concept of change and welcoming the "new" and "renewal" explaining it (as a recipe for life) powerfully in his books.
A word about the music and soundtrack which contributes enormously to the overall feel and quite critically in those final scenes which beckon a new future for the Wilder/Hudson family on Martian home. Stanley Myers was already famous his celebrated score for The Deer Hunter (Yes..it was Myers NOT John Williams - who merely played it - who composed the Cavatina!) and for Martian Chronicles he attempted to incorporate the familiar sounds and electronic buzz of the genre with catchy tunes and panpipes and flutes to evoke a lost alien culture (the sounds of Peru were highly popular in the easy listening market at the time - who didn't buy a panpipes album then?) producing a film score of remarkable range and variety which lends precise support to each scene and character. Anderson said: "In the two films he scored for me.. .he brought my work to a higher level and added a sensitive and emotional quality that was part of his gifted talent"
The score is now held as part of the Stanley Myers legacy in the archives of the RCM London. Thankfully, a CD of the full soundtrack and music is available in stunning sound quality with a beautifully produced booklet crammed with info, some of which I have used here, on the production as a whole. It is the next logical step if you already are or become a fan of the film: Airstrip One AOD 003, but limited to 3000 copies, you may find a copy on Ebay. The availability of the enhanced film music on CD has been mentioned elsewhere - you will be very pleased with this high quality product if you purchase it.
When you love something, you naturally want to find out others feel. Reaching for the shelves of Jstor I am reading an interesting article here: "THE DANGERS OF BEING EARNEST: RAY BRADBURY AND THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES" Kent Forrester
The Journal of General Education
Vol. 28, No. 1 (SPRING 1976), in which he more or less states "Bradbury's ideas are so strong he weakens his stories." Precisely why so many people keep giving this dramatization a thumbs up: for the wealth of ideas it contains.
If you come to this film without prior knowledge of the book itself, AND WITHOUT WANTING TO DO A MIND JOB ON IT, take heart - this is delightful entertainment with fine performances and story lines. It is ideally set up for viewing over a few evenings. There is too much to think about or take in to watch this in one viewing. See past some of the tacky animatronic type special effects, dubious costumes and sets - which actually I find great fun and giving again that enchanting retro "feel" -
DISCOVER THE MARTIAN INSIDE YOURSELF!
*In fact I can't think of any other reference point for the Martian Chronicles except the UK TV series Space 1999