Path to Mars #977: Lights, Camera, Martians!

Curiosity, the third scientific rover to head to Mars, will be launching on November 25th. It is scheduled to land on the red planet in August, 2012. Its two-year prime mission? To gather samples and data on environmental conditions on Mars, paving the way for humans to one day set foot in the red dust. Although it won’t be searching for the bones of an alien race per se, the aptly named rover may just stir up more than soil. It might just roll out the 7th wave of the already stuffed shelf genre of science fiction:  movies about Mars.

To celebrate Curiosity’s latest adventure, why not take a journey through the seven waves? [Caveat: I’m not a film history major. There may be more than seven waves of martian movies. Let’s go with it.]

Wave #1 The Beginning. A Trip to Mars was a short film produced by Thomas Edison in 1910. It features “reverse gravity” and was made in 1910. Neato! NOTE:  The clip below features an imposed piano soundtrack and was pieced together from stills, but is still worth watching to give you a taste of martian cinematic history.


Wave #2 – Early Hollywood Cashes in! Flash Gordon wowed audiences on the big screen in 1938 in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars, a 15-part serial film. Interestingly, the original setting in the comic book was the planet Mongo; the location was changed to Mars to capitalize on Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds (see Wave #4 for futher explanation).  The film was also released under the title Mars Attacks the World, to further capitalize on this event.



Wave #3 – The 50s and 60s flood. With the race into space on, this was one of the most prolific periods for Martian flicks. Two of the most notable from this period include Invaders from Mars (1953) and The [original] War of the Worlds (1953). The number of B-movies from this period is seemingly endless. A great resource for this is the Mars Society’s Mars Movie Guide. (If you happen to live in San Diego, lucky you! They hold regular Mars Movie Night viewings.)


Wave #4 – The 70s and 80’s dry spell. This strange space of time spanned the years after the first initial space craze had faded, and the first wobbly attempts to penetrate Mars showed a low success rate (the continuation of which is known as “The Mars Curse”). This ongoing embarrassment combined with the global disappointment in lack of little green men may have encouraged the made-for-TV movie The Night That Panicked America, which recounts the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of The Worlds. Apparently, thousands of people missed the introduction of the broadcast, and mistakenly believed that martians had actually invaded earth and were taking over America. Tee hee.


Wave #5 – The 90‘s. Perhaps as a rejection of the “grey is the new black” general climate, the 90’s gave birth to the very silly but enjoyable Total Recall (1990), where we got to see Arnie’s eyeballs nearly pop out of their sockets, and the very camp Mars Attacks! (1996) from the man of that hour, Tim Burton.




Wave #6 – Hollywood Blockbuster meets Unfortunate Millenium Remakes. With an eye turned a little more to the reality of living on Mars, this era brought us the Ghosts of Mars (2001), in which colonists are possessed by Martian Ghosts. Along with other such horror/colonist gems, We also got to experience the remake of The War of the Worlds (2005) which featured Tom Cruise getting sucked up into an alien and surviving. I did rather enjoy the charming ET-like moment of an alien playing with a bicycle wheel in a basement. Awwww, Steven Spielberg, that was so cute!


Wave #7 – Colonists Wanted. Although reviews state it lacks both heart and imagination (yikes!) the animated and recently released Mars Needs Moms (2011) stars the extremely easy-to-like Seth Green and Joan Cusak. I’d watch it for the cast and the visual effects only. With the future crew to the real planet currently being in the under-10 set, I’d wadger we might be seeing more than one new Mars release aimed at kids. Now if only we could teach those kids to love both science and art, we might see a little improvement in Mars genre films. Heck, one of them might even be the first to create a film on the actual red planet. Now that’ll be something worth seeing.

Blast Off!


About Renate Pohl

Theatre Designer, Space and Stained Glass Artist, Writer.
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