Vital Signs

A Waste of Space

Mission to Mars
Produced by Walt Disney Productions
Directed by Brian De Palma
Screenplay by Lowell Cannon, Jim Thomas, and Graham Yost
Released by Buena Vista Pictures

Instead of insulting our intelligence, as so much third-rate science fiction does, director Brian De Palma's second rate Mission to Mars is just good enough to do something much worse: It insults our hope in a purposeful universe. It does so by invoking the now standard-issue movie metaphysics in which traditional theology is replaced with extraterrestrial teleology. Whether De Palma's reliance on this arthritic commonplace indicates a failure of imagination or a commercially minded cynicism is a delicate question. A glance at his career to date, however, may suggest an answer.

From his earliest efforts, De Palma has been the perfect film student. Glib and overtrained, he's always been eager to borrow from his idols, Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Howard Hawks. Sisters was his Rear Window; Obsession, his Vertigo; Blowout, his Blowup. Then, of course, there's Scarface, his lurid and ludicrous remake of Hawks' Scarface. In each, you can see him appropriating the camera moves, compositions, and pacing of his masters. But he does so like a talented child copying his favorite cartoon characters. The resulting...

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