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Some good action sequences but dark sub-text probably ruined this at the box office
on September 29, 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
According to Wikipedia, 'Mars needs Moms', was the 5th biggest box office bomb in motion picture history. It cost about $150 million and the lifetime, world-wide gross was a little over $21 million. So where exactly did it go wrong? It's one of those films made using motion capture technology. The critics were split on the use of that technology: some dug it quite a bit and others found the characters to be like Madame Tussaud wax figures. Personally, I wasn't bothered by actors who had their movements and facial features, filled in by the magic of computer animation. And if you wait for the end credits, you'll see outtakes of just how the cast looked, when acting as 'motion capture' subjects.
'Mars' is based on a sci-fi, black comedy picture book of the same name by Berkeley Breathed. The adaptation is geared much more for adults than kids as it has quite a bit of a dark sub-text, that perhaps is a bit too off-putting for many viewers. For starters, nine-year-old protagonist Milo's declaration during the film's opening scene, that he wished he never had a mother, is a bit jarring; this especially after his mother merely asks him to take out the garbage and punishes him for not eating his broccoli. The kid immediately regrets his harsh rejoinder and spends the entire time trying to make up for the faux pas. The heartbroken look on the mother's face stays with you despite the fact that such a harsh statement emanates from a kid's mouth.
If there is a positive side to the film, it's in the action adventure component. Milo's adventures, as he manages to stow away on the ship that's his kidnapped Mom now finds herself on, and how he escapes initial capture on the Red Planet, are exciting moments indeed. The idea of Gribble, the man-child, who jokes how he's a secret astronaut from an 80s Reagan era program but is actually like Milo (a kid who tried to save his Mom), doesn't quite hit the mark, not only because he's a buffoon but the fact that he's been stranded on Mars since his childhood after his Mom was also kidnapped. What's worse is that he actually witnessed the Martians performing their own version of a lobotomy on his Mom and failed to save her, which I would think is a disturbing idea for young viewers to take.
There's more noir to endure when we discover that the Martian world is a vast police state run by females only (the childlike, ineffectual males are beneath the surface, existing in a giant trash compactor). The females are headed by 'The Supervisor', the film's antagonist, a Lady MacBeth-like, crazed control freak, who resembles a shriveled up, Spielberg Extraterrestrial. The mad Supervisor is a fun character and is pitted against Ki, who adopts the language of Hippies from an early 70s TV sitcom, which she finds in some secret files, she's assigned to oversee. Ki is the Mar's version of a beatnik, who enjoys painting colorful graffiti on the drab Martian home world. My problem with the Ki character is why is she the only one to break away from the pack? There seems no explanation for it, in the context of the story.
Milo only has a few hours to save his mother, and you probably can guess the film's denouement if you haven't seen the film yet. It's all rather predictable and the film's scenarists lost a big opportunity when they failed to develop Milo's mother as a fully developed character. Instead of having her disappear for most of the narrative, strapped to a gurney, wouldn't it have been better if the Martians made her a sentient overseer--directing the nannybots (who also could have interactional capabilities) in proper parenting techniques (a more animated Picard Locutus, is the character I'm thinking of).
For sheer action, Mars needs Moms, has some clever action scenes. But essentially it's a rescue story, and most of the characters prove to be decidedly one-note. It's worth watching, but deserves only an average rating.