Mission to Mars
Hollywood Records (HR-62257-2)
Release Date: 2000
Conducted by Ennio Morricone
The New York Filmharmonic
|1.||A Heart Beats In Space|
|3.||A World Which Searches|
|5.||A Wife Lost|
|6.||Towards The Unknown|
|7.||Ecstacy of Mars|
|8.||Sacrifice of a Hero|
|10.||An Unexpected Surprise|
|11.||All the Friends|
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|by Dan Goldwasser
on March 11th, 2000
What if the face on Mars was really a sculpture? What if it held the key to understanding the origin of the human race? What if the movie that examined these ideas was actually good? Well, we'll never really know. The somewhat interesting - but wholly unoriginal - film Mission to Mars tried to examine these ideas (and others), but fell flat. It had a great cast, solid visual effects, and basically no original plot. If you've seen 2001, The Abyss, The X-Files and Contact, then you've basically seen the film. While the film contains segments that are enjoyable, they don't add up to a solidly enjoyable film. What this film does have, however, is a rather solid score by Ennio Morricone. At times it seems a bit out of place, but ultimately it's one of the few things in the film that makes perfect sense.
The score seems to be presented on the album as a collection of the different themes from the film, almost like "suites". Beginning with "A Heart Beats In Space", we get one of the films main dramatic themes that contain subtle guitar arpeggios, reminiscent of some of the earlier spaghetti westerns that Morricone scored. This makes perfect sense - like the explorers encountering the west for the first time, we have some new explorers discovering Mars. A light female choir and solo horn add the appropriate otherworldly elements.
"A Martian" (way to ruin the end of the film!) contains another heavy dramatic theme, which seems to fit perfectly into Morricone's repertoire. The use of arpeggios and a solo flute with the occasional orchestral and choral underscore seem to place this right back into the "classic" Morricone style. The main theme from this cue is, of course, entirely memorable and moving - at least, it's moving by itself. In the film it came off as a tad contrived and overly emotional (and reminded me of a bit of The Untouchables). This just happens to be one of those situations where the score works better than the film (and in this particular film, this is a rather common situation)!
One of the better sequences in the film involved a space walk to repair a hole that was leaking oxygen from the spacecraft. The tension of the air running out and the slow ability to maneuver in space was heightened by Morricone's underscore, heard in "Towards The Unknown". With a simple bass line (reminiscent of his work on The Thing), and alternating ascending and descending chords works amazingly well to create the right mood of gut-wrenching suspense.
Other cues on the album contain moments of suspense, dread, drama, wonder, and excitement. Some are full orchestra; others contain odd synth effects ("And Afterwards?"). All of them had the right idea for the film, but most of them just didn't work that well in the film. But it wasn't the score that failed - it was the execution of the film. Morricone did a wonderful job with the score, and I hope that people look beyond the film and pick up the score for the music alone. Why is it that some of the worst movies seem to have some of the best scores? I suppose we'll never know.
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