Film Review: Passage to Mars

The stark white beauty of the Arctic is the just about the only memorable element of this essentially trite presentation of a facsimile space mission that never gets off the ground, in more ways than one.
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After conquering the Moon, space travel has long set its sights on Mars and, to that end, NASA has established an outpost, the Haughton Mars Project, in the Arctic, on Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world. There, tests are performed involving equipment and procedures to prove their effectiveness should they be called upon for use on the angry red planet. Passage to Mars records these efforts. The specific mission covered here is a test run for the HMP Okarian, a five-ton vehicle, which NASA flew to the western Arctic for a team to drive it 2,000 miles to Devon.

Besides directing this film, Jean-Christophe Jeauffre, a self-described “keen naturalist and adventurer,” owns an events/production company called Jules Verne Adventures. Unfortunately, he does not seem to be a natural born filmmaker along the lines of a Jacques Cousteau for such a real-life adventure, and his basic taste level is even more suspect. He has Zachary Quinto momentously intoning an impossibly pretentious and trite narration, written by NASA scientist Pascal Lee, who should also stick to this day job, vide “Persistence, that’s what exploration takes. It’s about venturing into the unknown and pushing the limits of where you can go and what you can do to meet with what’s out there. I know that our small step is preparing us for the greatest adventure of all time.”

Jeauffre’s ham-handedness extends to the use of a particularly awful, thunderously droning and portentous music score; endless CGI renderings and animated maps of the surface of Mars; unnecessary, cutesy title cards, and a mawkishly described sighting of a polar bear. (“Somehow this beautiful ghostly encounter brings us luck.”) None of the team members—coyly referred to as “The Children of the Okarian”—emerges as especially memorable in any way—a passel of interchangeably staunch white guys—although there is a queasy moment when the one non-Caucasian explorer, Joe Amarualik, gets to have Quinto declare that “the Inuit are born explorers” over his reluctant close-up.

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