Sunday, 17 October 2010

Of Mars and Men

Mars 2010 US
Directed by Geoff Marslett
Screened at London Film Festival
16th October 2010

I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch Mars yesterday at the London Film Festival. I’d like to say that was because of a lack of information on the movie through the usual research channels but, to be honest, I like to go into these things with a certain sense of blindness to what’s coming. Consequently my sole guiding factor I use these days when picking out which films in a festival to take a chance on is pretty much not far removed from that whole “judging a book by it’s cover” kinda thing. So this is how I do it when the latest edition of the London Film Festival programme arrives through my letterbox these days...

1. Look for films by Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman, JIm Jarmusch, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Pedro Almadover, Wim Wenders, Wes Anderson, Peter Greenaway or someone similarly cool.

2. Since these rarely come up, look for movies that have Caroline Munro in them (this is admittedly not very likely).

3. Barring that, look for movies with the most bizarrely twisted or possibly x-rated plots (hey, I’m a red blooded male and apparently, if statistics are to be believed, I think of the act of copulation every seven sexonds... err... seconds... err, sorry I was writing something wasn’t I?).

4. Ok. If nothing’s standing out to grab me then look at all the pictures and see what has the most provocative imagery... preferably with a young lady exposing some rarely glimpsed part of her anatomy because... oh, see point number 3 above...

Which is why I ended up seeing Mars. That all important picture of what looked like a man dropped into an animated background (I was sorta half right... oh, alright then I was technically completely wrong on this count) with a definite sci-fi edge to it. That and the fact that I couldn’t find any pictures of provocatively unclothed females (I’m such a philistine!).

So there I am sitting in the audience waiting for this movie to start and actually feeling kinda tired, when the director comes on the stage by way of giving us a little introduction to the movie... which was nice of him (he also stayed around for a little Q & A at the end) and he tells us that Mars is more of a date movie than a fighting big monsters with explosions on an alien landscape kind of picture. And this is not so bad because, while I do like monsters and explosions and ray guns and robots, I am also quite happy to watch date movies too... and it was at that point that I spent less time concentrating on the director in front of me and more time bemoaning the fact that I was dateless in an audience half comprised of film literate females and I got kinda depressed for a short while there until the movie itself came on and was brilliant enough to distract me.

Mars is a great little film. It looks rotoscoped or something like it. Basically the actors are all shot doing the film against a green screen and then a team (small team in this case I believe) of animators draw back over them and then add all of the backgrounds, props etc themselves so it takes on the look of a marvellous blend of photorealistic animation and sci-fi which lends a certain amount of credence to the fantastical elements of the story... although to be fair the film doesn’t venture out too far in the fantasy stakes... and by that I mean it doesn’t get in any way really surreal (except in maybe some of the humour and timing of the dialogue) so it’s more focussed on what it’s trying to say as a story rather than looking extra beautiful.

Although saying that, the film does look really beautiful and maybe, dare I say it, a bit comic-book like? Certainly, when foreign languages are spoken on screen the two characters who do this are framed like a comic-strip panel with the translation of their dialogue appearing in a box at the bottom of the frame. Nice touch. It definitely feels like it’s been ripped out of an old Heavy Metal comic from the 1980s.

I hope the writer/director wouldn’t mind me saying that it does, in a couple of ways (which may seem superficial to some), beg comparison with some of the work of the great Richard Linklater. Certainly the technique (or at least the final result of it on screen) bears more than a passing resemblance to Linklater’s unbelievably cool Waking Life (check that one out if you have an opportunity to do so) which was more popularly used in his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. The writing of the characters and the delivery and timing of those characters, along with their whole attitude to life in general also seems to somewhat resemble Mr. Linklater’s work but I’m not saying this is a deliberate move by Mr. Marslett... I just think it’s a serendipitous (for those of us who like Linklater) symptom of having a movie directed by someone who seems to have similar concerns/writing style... although I presume Geoff Marslett is quite aware of Linklater.

And I’d have to say that I hope Linklater is equally aware of Geoff Marslett because Mars is a great watch! It has a real deadpan sensibility to it and a giant shot of humour running all the way through it which some people may not tag straight away but... well, this movies definitely a comedy with a strong thread of humanity pulling all the characters together and it will probably cause you to laugh out loud once you let the movie under your skin a little. The whole thing smacks of John Carpenter’s Dark Star but with characters who are less aggressive and more... “oh, yeah, whatever, what’s going on”... if you know what I mean.

It has a really different kind of score than you may at first expect from a “sci-fi” movie, by Howe Gelb, with some guitar pieces driving the movie along it’s way... a very nice mix of visuals and music which really fits the film like a glove.

At the end of the movie the director mentioned in response to a question that the film has not, as yet, picked up a European distributor (I have no idea if this movie has ben released stateside as yet)... which is a shame because it’s a movie that deserves to be seen by people who will appreciate it for the achievement it is. I really hope it gets picked up soon because... a) it’s such a gem and b) more selfishly because I want to buy the DVD so I can watch it a few more times.

If you like low-tech sci-fi with underplayed characters who move the film along at it’s own leisurely pace... and you like movies that will make you smile a lot... then try to see this movie.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds quite good! You've whetted my appetite for this date movie (not my cuppa Joe, I'm afraid). And your perspective on how to view a movie--very methodical yet open, as in Who knows what will come? A good lesson. I tend to want to know certain aspects of the flick in advance so I can see how it will pan out. More writerly and controlling than freeing. Your method seems as if it would bring you hidden gems, like this one.