Directed by Ruairí Robinson, 2013's The Last Days On Mars follows an international team of eight scientists who are stationed on Mars where they're hoping for find some semblance of life on the red planet. When the movie begins, Vincent Campbell (Liev Schreiber) is piloting an all-terrain vehicle across the planet's surface with Rebecca Lane (Romola Garai), they're out to pick up Kim Aldrich (Olivia Williams) from a dig site. With only a day or so left on their mission, Kim is irate that they haven't found anything yet while Vincent really just wants to go home, though he's dreading the six month commute it'll take to get him back to Earth.
Things get messy for the crew when Marko Petrovic (Goran Kostic) takes one of the ATV's out under the guise of having to fix something at the site. The reality is that he's close to finding something and he wants to finish the task before they go home. He hasn't let anyone else in on this information, however, presumably because he wants to take all of the credit himself. Of course, this doesn't go well and the surface opens up and basically swallows him. Vincent and a few others head down into the hole to rescue him but he's gone, only to later appear at the base, his face having basically rotted off and his mind gone. He's violent, he attacks anyone he comes close to, including the man in charge, Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas). As the survivors do what they can to fend off attacks from Marko, it soon becomes obvious that whatever has infected him spreads through blood contact. With the ship that is to carry them back home arriving in less than twenty-four hours, Vincent and the rest of the team find themselves having to fight for survival at any cost.
Kind of a mix of John Carpenter's The Thing and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later set on Mars, this is a decent hour and a half plus worth of entertainment. Though it's very definitely rooted in science fiction (and not science fact as there are some obvious liberties taken with that aspect of the story), The Last Days On Mars crafts some believable and sympathetic characters and then pulls us in by putting them in a very dire situation. We don't like everyone here. Kim isn't a particularly nice woman to be around and you can completely understand why Vincent has trouble hiding his dislike for her, but she, like the rest of the crew, is human and prone to behavior that is less than perfect. By making interesting and understandably flawed characters the centerpiece of the movie, it gives the last half of the picture more resonance. This one takes about a half an hour or so to really get going, but by the time it does, we at least care about a few of the people affected by all of this, and so much the better.
Performances are pretty good across the board here. We don't like Olivia Williams' character at first but once it all hits the fan and she selflessly uses her intelligence and scientific background to at least try and help the others, her character redeems herself. Koteas is good as the top dog on the base while Garai is quite sympathetic as the one character who Schreiber's Vincent actually strikes up a genuine friendship with. The relationship that evolves between Vincent and Rebecca anchors the movie and gives it some emotion where otherwise it would have fallen a bit flat. Schreiber in the lead role is also very good, giving his character enough of a personality that we want to find out what happens to him.
Some of the digital effects look a bit too digital for their own good but for the most part they succeed in convincing us that all of this is taking place on a different planet. The vehicles used move nicely while the space suits that the characters wear when they venture outside of the main base look authentic enough to work. There are a few moderate gore effects here and some ‘monster makeup' employed in a couple of scenes. These work too, though they're not given as much importance as you might expect. All in all, this is a solid space thriller with a decent premise, strong effects and good acting. As such, it's worth seeing.
Last Days On Mars debuts on Blu-ray from Magnolia in a 2.39.1 widescreen transfer presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. As this was shot on digital video there are obviously no real problems with print damage, dirt or and the image is clean and crisp throughout. Colors are very nicely reproduced and generally quite impressive while black levels are nice and deep. Detail can and does impress, if not always at least most of the time, and for the most part the movie looks very good. There are no obvious compression artifacts or edge enhancement problems and only minor ringing evident in a few spots. There are a few spots where the digital effects look like digital effects rather than any sort of living environment but outside of that complaint, this is a rock solid transfer.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on the disc is excellent. Optional closed captioning is provided in English with optional subtitles available in Spanish. There's plenty of surround activity throughout the movie, be it subtle or not so subtle, and it's often times used very well to help enhance the film's atmosphere and scares. The score is spread out well throughout the different channels and bass is powerful and strong without burying the higher end in the mix. Dialogue is easy to understand and nice and crisp and there's good depth and range evident throughout.
Extras kick off with the first of three featurettes and that's The Making Of The Last Days On Mars, which runs just over fifteen minutes in length. Made up primarily of cast and crew interviews, here we learn about the toils and tribulations of having to act inside a heavy space suit, the difficulties of staying consistent with location shooting while trying to maintain the illusion of the activity taking place on an alien planet and what it was like getting into character for some of the players. The six minute Analyzing The Visual Effects is a quick but concise look at how digital effects were used to create the alien landscape on which the movie takes place, while the four minute Behind The Scenes Comparisons uses an inset to show the before and after of the location shooting compared and contrasted to the finished digitally enhanced footage.
Aside from that we get a three minute EPK style promo piece called AXIS TV: A Look At The Last Days On Mars, a theatrical trailer, trailers for a few unrelated Magnolia properties, menus and chapter selection.
The Last Days On Mars is an enjoyable mix of sci-fi and horror that's well shot, visually impressive and performed by a more than capable cast. The story might not win any awards for originality but it's effectively paced and frequently quite atmospheric. The Blu-ray release from Magnolia isn't stacked with extras but neither is it barebones and it looks and sounds very good. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.