SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 28, 2010
Director: Geoff Marslett
Writer: Geoff Marslett
Starring: Mark Duplass, Zoe Simpson, Paul Gordon, Howe Gelb, Liza Weil, James Kochalka, Cynthia Watros, Michael Dolan, and Don Hertzfeldt
Damn Russians with their sneezing and their snot and their general lack of hygiene! Pierre (Garry Peters) sneezes fluorescent green snot all over a robot named Beagle II while he and his bossy cohort Andrei (Jeremy Pollet) load it into a Mars-bound rocket. Upon landing on Mars, Beagle II breaks down – all thanks to Pierre’s sticky green snot – and loses contact with Earth rendering it unable to fulfill its mission to locate life on Mars.
ART is the next robot to be sent to Mars. However, this robot seems to have a mind (and heart) of its own as it decides to alter its landing site in an attempt to locate Beagle II. The altered flight path exposes ART to damaging elements, which eventually ends its ability to communicate with Earth. But during its final communication, there is a brief glimpse of what could possibly be a life form…
This clue (and two lost robots) prompts NASA to send three human astronauts – Charlie (Mark Duplass), Casey (Zoe Simpson) and Hank (Paul Gordon) – to land on Mars in the hopes that they will finally answer that age-old question of whether or not there really is life on mars. Charlie was once the bee’s knees of space, but the fame garnered from his heroic space walk years ago has all but fizzled away. On this mission, Charlie is the redundant and expendable astronaut with no real role except as a television celebrity (to quote David Bowie: “He’s in the best selling show, Is there life on Mars?”). Casey and Hank do the real astronaut work – Charlie is just there to look pretty in his bedazzled Western-stitched astronaut jumpsuit.
The casting of this spacey threesome is pitch-perfect – Hank’s dry comedic monotone playfully duels with Charlie’s heroic cockiness and Casey’s sexy smarts. Writer-director Geoff Marslett playfully (and rather comically) portrays the characters’ personalities and moods visually via their hair styles (which change virtually every scene). There are plenty of other visual gags built into the scene backgrounds as well (for example, the blue screens of death at Mission Control). I also seem to think that Mars might just be a very clever comment on humankind’s willingness to spread germs (i.e. the recent swine flu pandemic).
This is an opportune time to mention that Mars was shot live-action but then animated in post-production via rotoscoping. Somewhat crudely animated (ala Home Movies), the highly saturated and sharply contrasted Mars resembles a very low-budget graphic novel version of Waking Life…but in a good way. The story is kept rather simple – as it turns out, Mars is a low-budget animated rom-com which is brilliantly disguised as a sci-fi film.
For some unbeknownst reason, some critics are writing off Mars as merely “mumblecore in space.” I honestly don’t get that – but maybe I just did not get the memo that every film that involves Mark Duplass is automatically considered to be mumblecore. Don’t get me wrong, I truly love a lot of films that do fall under the wide net of mumblecore. I just don’t see how Mars could possibly be classified under that same net. My advice is if you are turned off by the term “mumblecore” don’t let that scare you away from Mars.
It is also worth mentioning that Kinky Friedman’s extended cameo as the President of the United States is absolutely priceless.