Mars (1996) poster

Mars (1996)


USA. 1996.


Director – Jon Hess, Screenplay – Steven Hartov & Patrick Highsmith, Story – Patrick Highsmith, Producer – Avi Nesher, Photography – Irek Hartowicz, Music – Boris Zelkin, Visual Effects – D.Rez (Supervisor – David M. Blum), Special Effects – Ultimate Effects (Supervisor – John Hartigan), Production Design – Deren Abram. Production Company – Mahagonny Pictures/Conquistador Entertainment.


Olivier Gruner (Caution Templer), Gabriel Dell (Buckskin Greenberg), Shari Belafonte (Doc Halliday), Alex Hyde-White (Phillip Clement), Lindsay Lee Ginter (Ike Ringo), Scott Valentine (Pete the Hermit), Lee De Broux (Sheriff Bascom)


Caution Templer, a member of the elite police force known as Keepers, arrives in Alpha City on Mars, seeking an answer to the murder of his brother, who was also a Keeper. Templer’s investigation takes him up against local thugs and eventually the Inter-Planetary Mining Corporation who are trying to keep it a secret that the mineral Silex is having dangerous side effects on the miners.

Mars is one of the B-budget sf/action hybrids made Mahagonny Pictures, the production company formed by director Avi Nesher, director of the likes of She (1983), Timebomb (1991), Doppelganger (1993) and Ritual (2002). Mahagonny was also responsible for the genre likes of Automatic (1995), The Outsider (1996), The Minion/Fallen Knight (1998) and Nesher’s own Savage (1995).

The film is scripted by Mahagonny/Nesher regular scriptwriter Patrick Highsmith (which is possibly a pseudonym for Nesher himself – Highsmith was also the name of a character who was a screenwriter in Doppelganger). In the director’s seat is Jon Hess, who previously made the Dean R. Koontz adaptation Watchers (1988) and Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) and would go onto make the superior Legion (1998) for Mahagonny.

For a film that makes a definitive claim to a title – MarsMars is an underwhelming disappointment. When a film stakes out such a definitive topic – the promise being that Mars is offering the one authoritative word on its title subject – it had better have something important to say on the topic. (You can almost bet that the big-budget and much more thematically substantial spate of Mars films that came out a few years later – Mission to Mars (2000), Red Planet (2000) and Ghosts of Mars – were spitting tacks that Mahagonny had beaten them to the title and they were left with something lesser).

Alas, Mars has nothing interesting to say about its location whatsoever. The venue is of almost no importance to the story – it could be set on The Moon, a Western mining town or an island in the South Pacific for all the difference that it makes. Furthermore, we rarely see much of Mars itself – one of two brief model shots at the start and a minor surface excursion, which is conducted with little panorama, while the rest of the film appears to have been shot in a series of basement corridors and cut-price sets. It is no more than a warmed-over action movie.

The plot substantially rips off Outland (1981) – the theme of a lone lawman on a Solar System mining outpost; a company run by a double-dealing executive who is exploiting workers with dangerous drugs; and most noticeably in the character of a crustily individualistic woman doctor who ends up grudgingly helping out the hero. Jon Hess’s action scenes only occasionally come to life but mostly look cheap.

Belgian kickboxer-turned-actor Olivier Gruner, who has appeared in a number of Mahagonny’s films, plays tight-lipped and mean, which at least serves to keep his wooden acting to a minimum. Harry Belafonte’s daughter Shari plays the medic with a white-blonde hair dye job, and delivers a harsh performance that gives one the impression that she was not very happy at all during filming.

Condensed version of the film here

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