Where can man live other than on Earth? This is a popular question that has been posed for years. The most common suggestion is Mars. In fact, terraforming Mars has even been the subject of great movies such as Red Planet. Oh wait… Anyway, Mars tries to take a fresh look at exactly this concept.
In Mars, the combined countries of the Earth send a team of scientist astronauts on a mission to colonize Mars. This is a landmark event for Earth and mankind. The mission has been thoroughly planned and mapped out. Unsurprisingly and despite all of the planning, there are hurdles early on that result in struggles for the astronauts. As the series continues on, the crew are presented with more and more obstacles that threaten their success as well as their very survival.
As we watch the crew fight to overcome the obstacles, the story of the show is interwoven with interviews. These interviews are with real life scientists and engineers who are enthusiasts in the areas of space exploration and colonization. Some names will be familiar to most like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk. Others like Robert Zubrin and Andy Weir(author of The Martian) will most likely only be recognized by enthusiasts of terraforming and colonization of Mars. I actually remember when I was in college attending a talk by Robert Zubrin on this very topic.
One wonders why exactly they went the route they did with jamming these interviews into the narrative of the fictional story. I will admit, the interviews generally maintained relevance to the events occurring in the narrative. However, I would argue that it really hinders the feel of the product as a whole. You are constantly wrenched out of the narrative and feeling of the story. It actually reminds me of one of the TV shows where people are interviewed alongside the dramatization of the events. TV shows like “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” or “Locked Up Abroad” are good examples of what this often felt like.
This is not necessarily a terrible way to structure a TV series, but I do not think it worked well in the case of Mars. In the case of Mars, we have a highly stylized and relatively high polished production. While the acting may not have been top notch all around, the product has a very polished aesthetic and reasonably solid cinematography. All of this seems to have been designed to pull the viewer in. But as soon as you are pulled into the story, you are jerked out by the interviews. In the case of the aforementioned TV shows, the interviews do not present such a stark contrast. As such, switching back and forth between the two are not as jarring as they are in this show.
That aside, as I said before the production value is pretty darn good for a 6 episode mini series. The acting is only so-so, however. Also the story is only moderately involving even when it isn’t being interrupted. The constant presentation of yet another catastrophe or threat to the survival of the astronauts is predictable at best and fatiguing at worst. You could say The Martian suffered from the same problem. However, that movie rode on charm and having someone that you wanted to root for. This series has no Matt Damon character to care about. As it is, it really is what you should just watch one time through when you catch it on TV. I know I’ll likely never pull it out again. There are better and more interesting documentary pieces on the subject.
Picture Quality: 4/5
They didn’t skimp on the production here. The picture looks great throughout all the fictional parts. The parts that don’t look as great are the archival scenes. Those parts are somewhat jarring to watch, but it is the best it can look in such an odd presentation style.
Audio Quality: 4/5
Similar to the picture quality, the audio track sounds quite nice. With so many scenes involving rockets, heavy equipment and environmental factors on Mars, the soundtrack is quite enveloping. The surround is strong and packs the right punch for the series.
Special Features and Packaging: 4/5
Making Mars: This is a pretty thorough behind the scenes production for the mini series.
Before Mars – A Prequel: This is a slightly shorter episode showing backstory of the scenario and the youth of one of the main characters.
Before Mars Behind the Scenes: Another making of, this time for the backstory episode.
Getting to Mars: A scientific approach on the travel to Mars.
Living on Mars: A similarly scientific approach to living on Mars.
More Mars: More small bits on the science of the planet Mars.
Behind the Scenes: Just some more interviews and some footage from making the show.
Cast and Crew Interviews: More interviews with Ron Howard and some with the cast of the show.
In contrast to the special features, the packaging is just a pretty standard multi-disc case.
Mars is pretty interesting overall. The series brings up an interesting view on traveling to and living on Mars. The biggest problem is how repetitive it gets and how the style of the production fails to really immerse the viewer. The production quality is great for a Nat Geo series. The picture looks great, the audio sounds good and the special features are pretty comprehensive for the mini-series. In the end, I just doubt many will want to re-watch this much. It doesn’t succeed enough as a fiction series or enough as a documentary. This however could be a good one time watch to interest people in the concept of traveling to Mars. Rent Mars and enjoy it for what it is and maybe it will encourage some young people to pursue dreams in space.