Sometimes we all just need another world to escape into …… ….
Part 2 – Mars
In the second part of this article rather than give suggestions on different fictional (and real) worlds to escape to, I thought I would give you an entire planet. The planet in question is Mars, a place which has fascinated mankind for thousands of years. It is second only to Venus in brightness and can be seen with the naked eye from earth. It’s visibility means that man has constantly looked to the red planet for inspiration and wonder. Fiction using Mars as inspiration in both film and text is prevalent throughout history and observations such as when Giovanni Schiaparelli first described the Martian Canals of Mars in 1877 have helped perpetuate these works of fiction.
This does mean there are so many different stories to delve into from pure hard Science Fiction and onwards to complete flights of fancy. The question on your lips is what would I recommend? Lets start with the written word.
There is an enormous amount of fiction written about Mars from Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘Princess of Mars’ through to Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Martian Chronicles’. The first on my list for you to escape to is The Martian Chronicles (1950) by the aforementioned Ray Bradbury. This book is a collection of linked short stories (originally entitled The Silver Locusts) that documents mans relationship in the exploration and settling of Mars. The stories are episodic, they have separate narratives that link into an overall narrative structure. The Stories Chronicle mans exploration and settling of Mars and their relations with the Martians. The themes of the book explore Mans history of colonisation and parallels can be seen with the settling of America. Each individual story is a great read as is the main narrative, a must for anyone interested in the Red Planet.
Second on my Books list is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy; Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars. I read these books when they were first published, they cover the settling and Terraforming of Mars. What makes these books stand out is the accuracy of the science and the characterisation. The themes of ecology and the power of corporations are threaded throughout the narrative. The stories feel so real due to the quality of the research put in to make the science accurate, it is so easy to get lost in them.
Now lets dip our toes to the waters that is Television. The only program I can think of that exclusively takes place on Mars is the 1980 mini series of Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Martian Chronicles’. I really rate this adaptation, in my opinion it’s pretty faithful to the book. There are some not so good effects in it but the performances from the like of Rock Hudson and Roddy Mcdowell keep your attention. I love the overall production design aesthetic which gives a sense of other worldliness to the Martian cities. I am at present writing a Donkey recommends article on this program so keep your eyes peeled. It’s not easy to get a copy of the series, there is a region 1 DVD that I own but also a couple of years back Kino Lorber released a Region A Blu-ray, but from my research it seems that they have just upscaled it without any work so all it does is enhance the bad points of the original. I would personally stick with the DVD which is good quality picture from a decent original. As many people have heard me harp on, there is no point just putting something on Blu-ray without doing some work otherwise you just enhance the bad points.
Other Television shows that dips its toe into Mars include The Expanse (as well as the books). In my opinion The Expanse is the best Science Fiction on TV at the moment, it shows what can be done in the same way Babylon 5 did. Speaking of Babylon 5 in season 4 there is a major plotline involving Mars.
Now onto the big screen, or the same size screen if you’re watching at home. Mars has fascinated filmmakers over the years starting from the 4 minute film ‘A Trip to Mars’ from 1918. There are obvious entries such as Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ starring Matt Damon, a film everyone should see as it’s well worth your time and multiple viewings. You could do worse than watching Paul Verhoevans ‘Total Recall’ (not the remake) based on Philip K Dick’s short ‘We can remember it for you Wholesale’. I have a confession, this film is looked on as a classic of the genre but when I first saw it I actually didn’t like it. I’m not sure why but it didn’t grip me at the time, now all these years later having watched it numerous times I’ve come to love it.
We then have 2012’s ‘John Carter’, I always wondered why there had never been any quality adaptations of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars books. Disney spent a fortune on 2012’s version and it really bombed at the box office. Disney actually did a rabbit in the headlights and changed the title from ‘John Carter of Mars’ to ‘John Carter’ where they tried to hide the fact the film was set in Mars. I tried to watch it at the time and gave up, however recently I have had several people tell me its a lot better than most think, so I am willing to give it another go. If you want to look at some older films on Mars you could always give ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ (1964), its a lot better than you think by the title.
There is a sub-genre of Mars films/TV and Books, stories about Mars that aren’t actually set on Mars. War of the Worlds is an obvious one, the H.G. Wells book is great however I’m not a fan of the George Pal film (they lost me at the lack of tripods). Steven Spielbergs 2003 film with Tom Cruise is really good and close to the book. It is also worth checking out the 1980s/90s TV series which had an interesting way to continue the story.
There is so much out there on Mars and I’ve probably missed some good ones. What’s your favourite?