Mars (2010) D: Geoff Marslett

Mars (2010)

Mars

Made on a modest budget of just $450,000, Geoff Marslett’s ambitious and entertaining rotoscope animated Mars, first opened in March of 2010 at South by Southwest and played the festival circuit until its official release in December of the same year. Mars plays in July as part of Revelation 14 Perth International Film Festival for two sessions only on July 20 and 23.

The year is 2015. The space race is not what you’d expect, with inept engineers, morbid ground controllers and a President dressed like a cowboy who smokes cigars at press conferences. Charlie Brownsville (Mark Duplass) is a likeable lug of an astronaut prone to heroics who along with New Zealander, Casey Cook (Zoe Simpson) and fellow American Hank Morrison (Paul Gordon) is chosen to be part of the first manned mission to Mars. The mission is proposed when it is discovered the Europeans have sent a robotic scout with artificial intelligence to the red planet. A romance quickly blossoms between the often goofy Charlie and the determined Casey as Mars’ tale becomes one of survival and sacrifice.

For those unfamiliar with it, rotoscoping is the process of animating live action film, frame by frame. Once upon a time, this was only achieved manually by hand. Now of course, it is achieved digitally and this is the method Mars uses. A similar rotoscope technique is employed (and patented) by Richard Linklater in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Those films had a substantially larger budget though and the difference in animation quality shows. Whereas Waking Life in particular had a more primary-coloured and fantastical gloss to represent the dream state, however, Marslett has kept Mars at a more realistic sheen. There are times in the film where the live action and the animation blur, but also times when the viewer is jolted by missing pixels and other anomalies.

There is a healthy dose of science fiction satire in Mars; with NASA needing to appease network television for ratings via satellite link ups between Charlie and two hip young TV hosts and a stab at the space race of the past with dubiously qualified Russians who load the original robot onto a shuttle doubling as cleaners. There is also stillness in the pace of the film when the mission is in deep space, bringing to mind many classic sci-fi features from 2001: A Space Odyssey  and Dark Star to the more recent Moon.

With comedy country singer Kinky Friedman turning in a lot of laughs as the President of the United States and the easy chemistry between the two lovers, there is much to like about Mars. Paul Gordon plays Hank with 90s style dry and sardonic apathy and Duplass is his usual, endearing man-child self as he was in Humpday and The Puffy Chair.

It is a testament to his passion for independent filmmaking that the director has created such an elaborately produced movie on a relatively tiny budget.  It reportedly took two years after live action production wrapped for the rotoscope process to be applied. This is Marslett’s first feature length film and it is an impressive start.

Amusing, engaging and ambitious feature debut. 4 stars

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~ by mfnm on June 17, 2011.

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