In the year 2020, human beings finally set foot on Mars, as a small crew, led by commander Luke Graham (Don Cheadle), touch down on the Red Planet. A milestone in humanity's history soon turns to tragedy, however, when, after discovering a peculiar mountain-like rock formation, a powerful dust storm kills most of the astronauts. Dispatched to investigate what happened and rescue any survivors, a second crew that includes Commander Woody Blake (Tim Robbins) and Co-Commander Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise)
is soon retracing the original team's steps. After a meteor storm almost leads to another disaster, Blake and his people make it to the surface where they manage to find Graham, who has made some amazing discoveries of his own. As the astronauts come to realise that there is something remarkable happening on the supposedly uninhabited planet, they gain access to the strange structure spotted by the original crew and some incredible secrets that promise to alter the course of human history.
Much like The Pirates of the Caribbean, Mission to Mars was inspired by a Disney theme park ride of the same name and while it wasn't quite as successful as the unstoppable nautical blockbuster, it's an impressive slab of sci-fi all the same.
Directed by Brian de Palma, best known for Scarface and Mission Impossible, it's a handsome looking affair with top-notch special effects that convincingly realise the hostile planet's desolate surface. Clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick's seminal sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mission to Mars is a more cerebral take on the genre than, for example, Star Wars. The film's measured pace and weighty themes are more reminiscent of the work of so-called 'hard' science fiction novelists such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke (who penned 2001). Spectacular and intriguing, De Palma's film might not be a classic - although interestingly it was hugely critically acclaimed in France - but it's certainly an absorbing, visually impressive voyage into the unknown.