The critics so hated last weekend’s box-office smash “Mission to Mars” — in fact, some were downright mean to director Brian De Palma’s new-agey sci-fi pic — they forgot to mention that the film’s visuals, including the amazing special effects, are, ahem, out of this world. Two special-effects houses — Dream Quest Images and George Lucas’ renowned Industrial Light and Magic — were needed for the more than 400 special-effects shots that invoke the scary Mars surface, the weightless space travel and the astronauts’ spacewalk after their recovery-ship accident.
Reportedly costing close to $100 million to produce, “Mission To Mars” boasts one of the biggest sets ever built for a motion picture. The set, based just south of Vancouver, B.C., served as the vast (and blushing!) surface of Mars that the fearless astronauts played by Gary Sinise and crew must navigate.
The 55 Canadian acres serving as the Martian landscape were sculpted from sand dunes, then sprayed with a film of concrete-like material. In order to paint this huge area, crewmembers used fire hoses to spray about 100 gallons of environmentally friendly Mars red latex paint per minute. The filmmakers also shot landscapes in Jordan and the Canary Islands to deliver the Mars terrain.
Every exterior shot on Mars had to be digitally treated because the Martian sky doesn’t look like the Earth sky. There was also the elaborate model work needed to create the spaceship miniatures and the creation of the star fields and planet Mars as seen in the deep-space sequences.
The Mars II Recovery ship required the work of 25 modelmakers. Construction of the elaborate 22-foot-long spacecraft took 10 weeks. But according to special effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, the most challenging aspect of the film was the creation of the vortex — a giant storm mass of terrifying dust and winds emerging from both natural and supernatural phenomena.
The space-walk sequence, giving Tim Robbins and his fellow astronauts a little more fresh air than they bargained for, had the actors suspended with wires, ropes and harnesses. These 170 live-action shots, requiring a blue-screen background to be later composited with sky, took 25 digital artists three months to render. De Palma wasn’t fazed by the film’s complexities. He’s been a computer hobbyist for years and understands the technology and the processes. And that $100 million is somebody else’s problem.
FIFTH FLOOR, ART FILMS! Recalling those old elevator operators at Macy’s department store, AMC Entertainment, one of the country’s largest theater chains, is designating the entire fifth floor in its soon-to-open AMC Empire 25 on Manhattan’s 42nd Street to specialty/art-house films.
According to an AMC spokesperson, filmgoers with better taste than the rest of us will have about three to five indie and foreign films to choose from all on one floor.
When the Empire 25 opens April 21, it will be New York City’s biggest megaplex. And just in case there are any Webheads, game freaks or tube fanatics who think that going out to theaters is dying, they should know that right — and we mean directly — across the street is Loews Cineplex’s spanking new E-Walk complex of 13 screens.
Thanks to Hollywood’s ever-oiled moviemaking machine and the worldwide explosion of cinephiles shooting features on the cheap with DV cameras, we’re not worried about any screens going dark for lack of product.