As the title would seem to indicate, Flight To Mars deals with man's inaugural trip to the red planet. The crew consists of cash-strapped pessimist Professor Jackson (Richard Gaines), engineer Jim Barker (Arthur Franz), his lady love Carol Stafford (Virginia Huston), and scientist Dr. Lane (John Litel). Randy reporter Steve Abbott (Cameron Mitchell) is assigned the weighty task of documenting the historic journey, and there is, predictably, plenty to write about. A meteor shower causes the crew's landing on Mars to be a tad more unpleasant than intended, and the damage suffered indicates that Jackson's ramblings about this being a one-way flight no longer seem entirely unfounded.
Man isn't alone in the universe, though, and life on Mars is strikingly similar to that of Mother Earth. The Martians pledge their full support in returning our castaways home, but their leader Ikron (Morris Ankrum) has an ulterior motive in mind. The only reason his race has survived so long on the hostile planet is a rare and nearly depleted mineral, and Ikron seeks to steal the earthlings' ship to conquer the more hospitable Earth for his people. Mini-skirted Martian Alita (Marguerite Chapman) learns of his subterfuge, reporting it to her newfound sweetie Dr. Barker. As Barker and the rest secretly accelerate their development of the ship accordingly, Abbott provides a shoulder for a heartbroken Stafford to cry on. Things follow much as expected, and this being a science fiction movie, the crew isn't going to be able to escape that easily...
Flight To Mars is an interminable bore. Not only does it lack the strengths of earlier, superior sci-fi films, but the campy elements that came to define the genre just a few years later are absent as well. Flight To Mars is neither great nor gleefully awful. It's just 'there', sitting undistinguished in a dark corner somewhere. The cast does the best they can with the dialogue, which is a seemingly endless barrage of exposition and clichés. The production values are perhaps what hurt the film the most. Flight To Mars never takes advantage of the Martian landscape or offers more than a passing glimpse of any grand alien architecture that may have been present. Virtually every scene on the planet takes place on bland interior sets, and the aliens and humans are only distinguishable from one another by their distinctive clothing.
As if it were not difficult enough to sit through as it is, the source print for Flight To Mars was apparently in dismal condition. Random snippets of footage from several scenes are seemingly lost forever, and though their sum total may only amount to as little as twenty seconds (an entirely baseless guess; I genuinely have no idea), the effect on certain sequences is considerable.
Flight To Mars' presentation on DVD is nearly as unremarkable as the film itself, bolstered greatly by the inclusion of a detailed interview with the late Cameron Mitchell.
Video: Flight To Mars is not in the greatest of shape. As mentioned earlier, a couple of scenes are rendered incomprehensible by numerous missing frames. Most every type of flaw I can rattle off the top of my head is present to some extent, including heavy speckling, scratches, splice marks, thin vertical lines, and fluttering colors. Some odd orange blobs, each with a small black outline, rear their amorphous head with some regularity as well. The full-frame image is a bit on the soft side, though perhaps this was representative of how the film appeared theatrically. Many of these irregularities are to be expected given the age and obscurity of a film like Flight To Mars, and the only flaw that struck me as truly unforgivable is the missing footage.
Audio: The Dolby Digital mono track isn't quite as battered as the film's visual presentation, but there are a fair enough number of pops and hisses to give the impression that the soundtrack is being played back on vintage vinyl. Dialogue, with the obvious exception of the excised portions, is relatively clear and never difficult to understand.
Supplements: Along with trailers for Flight To Mars and other entries in the Wade Williams Collection are two 1988 episodes from the Santa Monica public access series Sinister Images. Hosted by film historian David Del Valle (himself no stranger to the Wade Williams Collection, having penned the liner notes for The Crawling Eye), these episodes feature Cameron Mitchell, who speaks at length about the decades he spent in front of the camera. The prospect of sitting through a nearly hour-long chat with an unfamiliar actor who had starred in a movie as uninteresting as Flight To Mars was somewhat daunting. I couldn't have anticipated how much I'd enjoy this interview, though. It's difficult not to get a kick out of a laundry list of leading ladies that Mitchell's characters had raped or his gushing about the brilliance of Italian director Mario Bava. (Excerpts of this interview were provided on VCI's DVD release of Bava's Blood and Black Lace, incidentally.) The only disappointing aspects are the rampant hiss and spotty video quality, apparently mastered from an 18th-generation VHS source of some sort. It's more than watchable, and aside from some odd blips late in the discussion, such flaws are easily ignored. On a related note, All Day Entertainment will be including two of Del Valle's interviews with one of horror's most recognizable figures on June 4th's Vincent Price: The Sinister Image DVD. If lower generation copies of Del Valle's series exist, I would happily plunk down the cash for a collection of more of these interviews.
Also, Tom Weaver provides some background information on the film along with quotes from the talent in the disc's liner notes.
Conclusion: Flight To Mars might make for a fun rental for some homebrew MST3K-style riffing, but I didn't find that it stood up well enough on its own to warrant a purchase. The excellent Cameron Mitchell interview balances out the mediocrity of the DVD's feature presentation, but not to the tune of twenty bucks. Rent It.