The Martian Chronicles (1980)

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The Martian Chronicles (1980) Empty The Martian Chronicles (1980)

Post  BoG on Sun Sep 22, 2013 10:56 pm

The Martian Chronicles (1980) MartianChronicles2
also starring
GAYLE HUNNICUTT Like a Star @ heaven DARREN McGAVIN Like a Star @ heaven BERNIE CASEY Like a Star @ heaven RODDY McDOWALL
Like a Star @ heaven BARRY MORSE
This was a TV mini-series adaptation of Ray Bradbury's famous work. It was intended as a new class of literate, intelligent sci-fi for television back then (late seventies-1980), in a field of mostly juvenile endeavors (Battlestar:Galactica was as adult as TV sci-fi got back then). Bradbury himself reportedly found the finished product to be just dull; it was adapted for TV by other famed sci-fi writer Richard Matheson.
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This is questionable as science fiction and more a commentary or parable on the historical colonization practiced by humanity. Mars is like the new frontier here, comparable to when the Europeans first settled the American continent and drove away or killed off the natives. Mankind is even compared to locusts in at least one scene (the space fleet heading for Mars).  In this context, the audience is expected to overlook the depiction of Mars as a planet much like Earth, breathable to humans and just more desert-like. One way to look at it is as an alternate reality, one in which Mars was quite Earth-like. The Martians themselves, the few we see, have little differences to human beings.
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The mini-series was divided into 3 parts or 3 chapters. The 1st chapter was 'The Expeditions' - chronicling the three missions to the red planet beginning in 1999, overseen by Rock Hudson's character, Col. Wilder. The 2-man first expedition is killed by a Martian literally just after they land. This had to do with telepathic jealousy affecting the Martian via his disturbed wife; I didn't really get this when I first watched this, when I was much younger, but I understand it now - sort of   Question 
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The 2nd 3-man expedition, about a year later (and headed by Nicholas Hammond, who played the TV Spider-Man a couple of years earlier) encounters small town Americana and people from their past. This was intriguing and recalled stuff like the Star Trek episode Shore Leave;  it ended up as more telepathy & illusion-casting by the Martians; the 3 men are poisoned on their first night there.
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The 3rd expedition is headed by Wilder himself and is a 6-man team. They find empty Martian cities and determine that the natives have been wiped out by chickenpox, apparently brought over by the previous expedition. One member of Wilder's team, Major Spender (Bernie Casey), is profoundly affected by these events and, angered by the callousness of his fellows, adopts the guise & weaponry of the natives, going on a killing spree; he manages to kill 3 team members  before being shot by Wilder. Ironically, Wilder himself was kind of sympatico to Spender.
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The 2nd chapter was titled 'The Settlers' - this was the expected 2nd phase as now a huge fleet of spaceships from Earth head to Mars with the intention of colonization. Wilder is placed in charge of all this and, within a couple of years, human towns & settlements have sprung up around Mars. The other survivor of the 3rd expedition, Parkhill  (Darren McGavin) has opened up a hamburger joint.
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Some eerie incidents soon crop up. The parents of one of the astronauts who was killed on the 2nd expedition have decided to settle near where he died and are soon visited by their dead son. Apparently, some Martians have survived and their telepathic/illusionary talents allow them to mingle, albeit with problems, among the humans. They take on the appearance of someone whom a person most wishes to see. Two priests (Fritz Weaver & Roddy McDowall) also arrive, intending to spread the gospel on the new frontier. The older one is interested in the missing Martian race; he encounters floating circular lights which may be non-corporeal ancient Martians.

All of these events are checkmated by the sudden and traumatic intrusion of the ultimate cataclysm: Earth is enveloped by nuclear war. For some reason, most of the colonists return to Earth just before the holocaust, so Mars is nearly emptied. Parkhill is visited by, then chased by Martians who use these ships which sail on sand; they hand him a deed to half of Mars, even though Parkhill shoots at them.
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The 3rd chapter is 'The Martians' - Wilder briefly returns to Earth in an effort to save his brother but finds that all are dead. On Mars, only a few scattered colonists remain. One (Christopher Connelly) wanders an emptied town until he hears a telephone ringing. This galvanizes him to contact other remaining colonists and he finds a female (Bernadette Peters). But, she turns out to be so self-absorbed that he quickly leaves her.

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Another one (Barry Morse) lives with a young wife and daughter, scanning the skies for a rescue ship. He is finally rewarded by a visit from Wilder and one of the priests. However, all is not what it seems; this story segment ends on an unexpected note and connects to the one with Connelly's character.
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This concludes with Wilder - he finally meets a Martian, though the two are transparent to each other, as if the Martian was in another time era. It's suggested that when Spender went crazy, he might have actually been a Martian. But, mostly, these final scenes represent Bradbury's philosophy on life in the purest sense. It ends with Wilder taking his nuclear family on a fateful Martian camping trip.
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I can understand Bradbury's opinion on this mini-series; much of this is very slow and some sequences, such as the one with Connelly & Peters, are downright pointless in their dreariness. I would guess that the director, Michael Anderson, was aiming to capture some of that poetic tonality usually associated with Bradbury's work - and some sequences do work that way - but most of this just has that snail's pace to it. This is evident in the early going, with drawn out shots of the first expedition about to depart when they should already be landing on Mars.

Unfortunately, some of the more exciting scenes have a juvenile-pulp fiction tone to them: one of the callous astronauts of the 3rd expedition (the one that draws the ire of Spender) is way overdone, behaving like some teenaged punk - how did he ever become an astronaut? The FX in space, of the ships, are poor, recalling the worst of the cheap children's sf shows of seventies TV or cheap films of the time like Starcrash.
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But, some of the set design is interesting - I really felt like I was on another planet at some points even though I knew, intellectually, that Mars was nothing like this.  And, Rock Hudson gives a fine, elegant central performance, anchoring the whole show. BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10
Martian Trivia: the sequence of the 3rd expedition was also adapted into an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater, "And the Moon Be Still as Bright," in which David Carradine played the Spender role, here essayed by Bernie Casey.
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