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Everardo Gout
Jihae, Alberto Amman, Olivier Martinez
Writing Credits:
Stephen Petranek & Paul Solet

The first manned mission from Earth to Mars in 2033 attempts to colonize the red planet.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French DTS 5.1
German DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 283 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 4/11/17

• “Making Mars” Documentary
• “Before Mars” Prequel
• “Before Mars: Behind the Scenes” Featurette
• “Getting to Mars” Featurette
• “Living on Mars” Featurette
• “More Mars” Featurette
• “Behind the Scenes” Featurette
• Cast and Crew Interviews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Mars (2016)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 27, 2017)

I suspect humans have fantasized about life on Mars ever since they confirmed the planet’s existence, and that fascination continues unabated into the 21st century. With a 2016 National Geographic mini-series simply called Mars, we get a mix of fact and fantasy.

Mars splits into six episodes across this Blu-ray set. All the plot synopses come straight from the Blu-ray menus.

Novo Mundo: “In 2033, the first human mission to mars enters the planet’s atmosphere, but the Daedalus crew faces a life-threatening emergency. In the present day, SpaceX is attempting to land a reusable rocket to develop technology to get to Mars.”

As I noted, the notion of manned missions to Mars isn’t exactly new, but it remains ripe for drama and intrigue. Unfortunately, “Novo” does its best to trample most of its potential excitement, as it treats its events in a strangely dispassionate manner.

I doubt the filmmakers intended this, as I suspect they wanted to bring out the tension and excitement. Those emotions don’t emerge, though – at least not yet. Hopefully matters will improve as the series goes.

Grounded: “The Daedalus crew battles the harsh Martian terrain to reach the safety of their base camp. In present day, we examine NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s year-long mission on the International Space Station and the hardships astronauts face.”

Episode Two continues along the same trajectory as the first show, which means a program with the superficial presence of drama but little actual substance. So far, I just don’t much care about any of the characters, as Mars has yet to develop them in a meaningful manner. Again, perhaps more time will benefit the series, but one-third of the way into Mars, it leaves me pretty cold.

Pressure Drop: “The Daedalus mission is in jeopardy as the crew struggles to find shelter from radiation. In the present day, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos partner to launch a probe to study the Martian atmosphere and look for signs of life.”

Halfway through Mars and the series has yet to draw me into it. Given all the inherent drama involved, shouldn’t I feel invested?

I should, but I don’t. Mars still offers thin characters and undercuts the tension with scenes that never feel all that perilous. I still hope matters pick up in the second half of the series, but so far, Mars remains a dud.

Power: “In 2037, four years after colonization, a new crew arrives, but a dust storm threatens. In present day, we look at how McMurdo Station in Antarctica serves as a simulated human settlement, testing how people might live on another planet.”

One would think Mars would offer a good chance to capitalize on the popularity of 2015’s The Martian, and it does – by telling a fairly similar story. Sure, Mars uses a full crew on the planet vs. The Martian’s lone astronaut, but both still follow stories of survival and peril.

That means Mars doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from Martian to sustain interest. The plot point in which twins – one on Earth, one on Mars – work on the mission seems intriguing, but the series fails to explore this notion well. So far, Mars comes across as little more than a longer, less compelling Martian.

Darkest Days: “In 2037, the psychological pressures of life on Mars reveal themselves while the crew is trapped inside the habitat. In present day, scientists study the effects of extreme isolation to prepare for a future manner mission to Mars.”

Though most of Mars follows the fictionalized mission in the 2030s, a fair amount of the series gives us real science circa 2016. That notion gives the episodes some educational value but it harpoons the main narrative’s momentum, as Mars cuts away from the action too often to sustain the story.

Not that I’m sure the overall plot would work much better without the educational moments. Five episodes in, Mars lacks emotion and intrigue, even as it relies more and more on melodrama.

Crossroads: “A devastating tragedy in the colony forces everyone to question the mission. In present day, SpaceX continues to work on pioneering rocket technology that could one day help mankind reach the red planet.”

In a good series, the “devastating tragedy” would offer dramatic impact. In the case of Mars, this event barely causes the viewer to shrug, mainly because the show set up its characters so poorly. We never care about them, so we fail to invest in their fates.

This means we also never dig into Mars as a whole. The series’ concept comes with plenty of natural intrigue, but beset with bland characters, predictable/derivative narrative choices and awkward pacing, Mars never coalesces into a successful experience. It borrows too much from other sci-fi efforts and can’t work on its own.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Mars appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Overall, the mini-series looked good.

Expect only minimal concerns with sharpness. A few interiors showed a smidgen of softness, but the majority of the programs appeared well-defined and accurate. I saw no shimmering or jaggies and both edge haloes and outside of some archival footage, print flaws remained absent.

Given the Martian setting, a rusty red-orange tone dominated the shows, though we got some teal thrown in as well. The programs replicated the colors with the desired impact. Blacks were deep and full, while shadows seemed smooth and concise. All in all, the shows offered nice visuals.

With the sci-fi motif, I expected an active DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, but the mix only occasionally boasted excitement. Space launches gave us some involving material, and a few other components such as storms used the channels in a compelling manner.

However, the series’ origins as a TV enterprise meant it lacked a “movie-quality” surround mix, so most of the audio concentrated on the front. Music showed good stereo spread, and elements moved across the speakers well enough, but the back channels played a smaller than anticipated role. While the surrounds added occasional bits of information, they didn’t do as much as I’d expect.

Audio quality worked well. Effects seemed accurate and dynamic, with strong bass response as appropriate. Music appeared full and rich, while speech was distinctive and natural. Though I’d prefer a more involving soundscape, the audio did a reasonably effective job.

All the set’s extras show up on Disc Three, and we start with Making Mars, a 47-minute, 17-second documentary. It involves executive producers Jon Kamen, Matt Renner, Justin Wilkes and Ron Howard, director Everardo Gout, production designer Sophie Becher, writer Paul Solet, JPL director Charles Elachi, Mars Society president Robert Zubrin, Planetary Society Director of Space Policy Casey Dreier, Smithsonian Institution’s Roger Launius, Hayden Planetarium director Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Planetary Resources co-founder/co-chairman Peter Diamandis, astrophysicist Jedidah Isler, How We’ll Live on Mars author Stephen Petranek, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, Martian author Andy Weir. University of Pennsylvania professor David Dinges, NASA astronauts Drew Morgan, Victor Glover and Jessica Meir, Packing for Mars author Mary Roach, NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green, NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld, NASA senior scientist Chris McKay, Voyager Interstellar Miessage creative director Ann Druyan, and actors Ben Cotton, Alberto Ammann, Sammi Rotibi, Jihae, and Clementine Poidatz.

“Making” looks at research and the science/history behind the plans to go to Mars as well as aspects of the TV series’ production such as sets and locations and music. Despite the title, “Making” tells us very little about the series itself, as it focuses almost entirely on scientific/engineering elements. Those are fine, but we learn some of this already in the series itself, so “Making” feels semi-redundant – and mistitled.

Called “a prequel”, Before Mars runs 33 minutes and gives some backstory for the mini-series’ main characters. It focuses on the Seung sisters as teens and shows their burgeoning interest in space exploration. “Before” works fine on its own, but I don’t know how necessary I consider it to be.

For more about the “prequel”, we go to Before Mars Behind the Scenes. It lasts a whopping two minutes, 28 seconds and features National Geographic’s Andy Baker. He gives us some basics about the “prequel”, but with so little time available, he doesn’t tell us much.

Getting to Mars breaks into six segments and fills 13 minutes, 51 seconds with comments from Musk, Green, Grunsfeld, Elachi, Tyson, Weir, Diamandis, Bolden, Zubrin, Roach, Druyan, Isler, Heldmann, Petranek, Launius, Dreier, Lovell and JPL’s Jennifer Trosper. They cover some basics about the challenges related to attempts to travel to Mars. These tend to be semi-promotional bits and they seem redundant after “Making” but they’re decent on their own.

Six more clips show up under Living on Mars. These take up a total of 10 minutes, 26 seconds and involve Green, Weir, Petranek, Heldmann, Bolden, Elachi, Zubrin, and Diamandis. Unsurprisingly, these discuss challenges related to adapting to the Martian climate. “Living” acts as an extension of “Getting”, with the same pros and cons.

Another four segments appear via More Mars. Over 10 minutes, 29 seconds, we hear from Bolden, Zubrin, Heldmann, Weir, Isler, Elachi, Green, Diamandis, Petranek, Dreier, Tyson, Launius, Space Policy Institute founder John Logsdon, and White House Office of Science and Technology Deputy Director Thomas Kalil. As expected, these echo the last two collections and give us general facts with an aim to promote the mini-series.

An additional three clips come to us under Behind the Scenes. These take up 14 minutes, 38 seconds and feature Howard, Wilkes, Solet, Musk,. Jihae, Renner, Isler, Becher, Poidatz, Rotibi and Gout. These contribute basics about the production. They include decent info, but they continue to seem fairly superficial and promotional.

Finally, we get of 25 minutes, six seconds Cast and Crew Interviews. These give us notes from Ron Howard, Everardo Gout, Paul Solet, Ben Cotton, Jihae, Clementine Poidatz, Alberto Ammann, Sammi Rotibi and actors Anamaria Marinca, Olivier Martinez, John Light and Cosima Shaw.

The participants cover various aspects of the production, all in the same fluffy way that has accompanied the prior collections of featurettes. This means we get occasional bouts of useful information but much of the material just engages in fluff.

A mix of fact and fiction, Mars provides a lackluster miniseries. The futuristic drama never ignites, and the views of modern science lack enough depth to tell us much. The Blu-rays offer mostly good picture and audio as well as a reasonably informative – if often promotional -collection of supplements. Mars ends up as a forgettable sci-fi program.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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