age: Why Tinseltown's got a case of Mars fever
By Andrew Murr and Jeff
Newsweek, December 6, 1999
When the folks at the Mars Society asked James
Cameron to speak at their annual convention
this year, they probably expected him to be polite.
Instead, the "Titanic" director stood before them
and asked, "Why the hell do you wackos want to
go to Mars?" He was just kidding: in truth, Cameron
is as evangelical as anyone about Mars, and he
figures politicians won't lead the call for funding.
"We don't have the same conditions as when John
Kennedy declared a race to the moon," he told
NEWSWEEK. "Then we were racing the Soviet Union.
Today, it's going to have to come from grass roots-from
the public clamoring to get it done." Cameron
has vowed to stir up "Mars fever."
It seems the wackos at the Mars Society have found
some powerful allies: the wackos in Hollywood.
So many projects are in the works that soon we'll
all have either Mars fever or Mars flu. The studios
are clearly responding to the public's fascination
with 1997's Sojourner mission-and the success
of movies like "Apollo 13" and "Armageddon." So
Brian De Palma's "Mission
to Mars," with Gary Sinise, will land in theaters
in March, and another would-be blockbuster, "Red
Planet," starring Val Kilmer, is set for summer
2000. As for Cameron, he'll produce two missions
in 2001, one a TV miniseries, the other a short
3-D IMAX movie,
which he'll direct. Most filmmakers insist their
movies will be realistic. Cameron believes that
extravaganzas like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek"
have actually hurt NASA's real-life adventures.
"Hollywood has done a disservice to the true adventure
of space travel by making it look too easy," he
Both of Cameron's projects are set in 2016, and
center on the first manned mission to Mars-and
a subsequent rescue mission. NASA has helped the
director draw up rigorously realistic vehicles.
"What we want to show," says Cameron, "is something
that is plausible and defendable."
De Palma's movie amps up the drama slightly. The
year is 2020. A mysterious explosion kills three
American astronauts living on the Red Planet,
and NASA launches a rescue mission to pick up
a batty survivor. The spacecraft and the spacesuits
will look like pure NASA. And the scenery, shot
in Vancouver, will look surprisingly Martian.
Art director Ed Verreaux spent hours staring at
the Sojourner pictures, and crews shot red concrete
out of fire hoses, covering 2 million square feet.
Of all the Mars movies, "Red Planet" will likely
be the most fanciful. Producer Mark Canton pitches
it as " 'Into Thin Air' on Mars." It's 2050, or
thereabouts, and greenhouse gases are choking
Earth. But on the first manned mission to Mars
the lander crash-lands on the planet. Soon, the
astronauts are fighting each other-and
killer space worms. "We are breaking some of the
rules," Canton says of "Red Planet's" realism,
"but it doesn't mean we are not going to get closer
to the truth." Whatever it takes to capture the
public imagination, and get astronauts-not just
actors-closer to Mars.