The Martian, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on the red planet, is the latest in a string of movies set on Mars. The movie opens here on Thursday (Oct 1).
Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie is based on Andy Weir's supremely entertaining adventure story which is both a celebration of the science nerd as hero and a remodelling of the classic Robinson Crusoe story.
The planet just next door to Earth has fascinated storytellers from the late 19th century, from passing mentions in Jules Verne's short stories to Edgar Rice Burroughs' pulp John Carter series, to the modern day.
Similarly, movie makers have loved the idea of Mars as a setting. Inventor Thomas Edison's studio actually made the earliest science fiction movie set on Mars titled, what else, A Trip To Mars (1910). The silent film, only about five minutes long, actually boasts rather sophisticated effects with giant half-men, half-tree monsters and multiple exposures.
Here are some other movies, set on Mars, worth watching.
1. The War Of The Worlds: A doublebill with the 1953 and 2005 versions
This is a fun doublebill for a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 style evening. The 1953 version, loosely based on the H. G. Wells novel about an invasion of aliens from Mars, offers cutely retro special effects of ship models crashing into miniature houses as well as lots of serious white men in military uniforms talking very intensely. But the images of battle are surprisingly gritty, evidently drawn from the then-still recent memories of World War II.
The remake is by director Steven Spielberg which means lots of CGI bang for your buck. It also stars Tom Cruise in prototypical action hero mode, steely jawed and flashing pearly whites in full-throated hollers, as well as a then-10-year-old Dakota Fanning in wide-eyed panic mode.
2. Capricorn One (1977)
Those who like their science fiction with a healthy dose of conspiracy will like this 1977 classic which unfurls like All The President's Men meets a science fiction movie. It also stars a young O.J. Simpson as one of three astronauts who are on a mission to Mars. Except the mission is a hoax unfolding on Hollywood soundstages (very meta) and an investigative journalist Elliott Gould smells a rat.
3. Total Recall (1990)
This movie combined two classic Hollywood formulas - beefcake action from a then-in-his-prime Arnold Schwarzenegger and a story from its favourite science novelist, Philip K Dick. Arnie plays a blue-collar construction worker who, in lieu of an expensive real trip to Mars, opts for a cheaper, implanted memory of a trip. The result is, er, a real head trip from director Paul Verhoeven, involving various levels of reality and lots of exploding objects.
4. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Before Disney made a movie based on a theme park ride, director Tim Burton made a movie based on trading cards. Mars Attacks! is a corny, camp, cockeyed romp starring an unbelievably respectable lineup of stars ranging from Glenn Close and Jack Nicholson to Sarah Jessica Parker and Sylvia Sidney. The kitschy design of the Martian aliens and their flying saucers, and the ignominious means of killing them (Slim Whitman's Indian Love Call causes their heads to explode) are both childishly silly and gleefully entertaining.