OK Houston, we have a problem here
‘‘ AND we have ignition for the first human expedition to the planet Mars. God speed Terra Nova!’’ So says the jubilant, evidently still religious, NASA- style ground control voice at the beginning of this faux documentary series, set in 2029, about man ( and woman) going to Mars.
The mission will take about months, there and back.
But despite a lofty, documentary voice- over during the opening credits — ‘‘ Project Olympus is the culmination of unprecedented collaboration by the International Mars Partnership’’ — the damned Chinese have launched a similar mission and, you guessed it, there’s a race to get there first.
This race, it turns out, has sent the poor blighters on the Terra Nova into deep space with faulty circuit boards, rushed through to make sure the International Mars Partnership beats the Chinese to it. Yeah, right.
While the special effects are moderately cool and the performances by the troubled ciphers who make up the crew of the Terra Nova are adequate, it’s the writing by husband and wife team Judith and Garfield ReevesStevens that brings the whole thing down faster than space junk over Western Australia.
Events are so predictable as to be laughable. There are classic sci- fi references, some intentional, some seemingly not.
At the first shared meal, for example, the joviality is so forced, so much a relief from the preceding 10 or so minutes of phony baloney space jive (‘‘ detaching Alpha 1, detaching Alpha 2’’), that you can’t help but expect someone to feel ill and have an alien burst out of their guts.
Instead, in absolutely the first sign that technology has advanced an iota in 30 years, a crew member produces a tiny data stick that contains the real 1950 movie Rocketship X- M, in which astronauts including Lloyd Bridges blast off for the moon.
Due to onboard malfunctions, Bridges and crew end up on Mars instead. As you do.
Our crew watches intently. ‘‘ This is fantastic,’’ says the token Russian. ‘‘ It’s so bad it’s actually brilliant.’’
Sadly, the same can’t be said for Race to Mars, which is just plain lousy. There’s an unintentional laugh- out- loud coda to the Rocketship X- M scenes when the Terra Nova is contacted by someone called Glenn Hartwell, administrator International Space Development Agency ( USA), whose rigidly upstanding grey quiff and stupefied demeanour instantly recall Bridges full of sniffed glue in Flying High.
The crew takes turns filing tedious videos, expository waffle termed ‘‘ psyche self- evaluations’’ to camera, crises come and go, and the French guy turns out to be a bit of a baddie. You could tell he was going to, because he has a facial scar.
Make ’ em laugh: Scene from Race to Mars