After nearly a week of trying to make contact with the $165 million Mars Polar Lander, scientists and NASA officials have all but given up the mission as a failure. Never an industry to shy away from big-money crap shoots, the motion picture community is putting a great deal of faith in a pair of Mars-related pictures that it hopes will generate substantially more interest and success than the recent NASA fiasco.
Disney is putting a great deal of time and strength behind its summer 2000 offering "Mission to Mars." Directed by Brian DePalma and starring Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Kim Delaney and Jerry O'Connell, "Mars" surrounds a seemingly failed manned mission to the red planet. As rescue operations are put in place, it is quickly discovered that an even greater menace may be waiting for them on Mars.
Competing for summer box office bucks in the Mars arena will be Warner Bros.' "Red Planet." Directed by Antony Hoffman and slated for a June 16 bow, "Red Planet" stars Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore and Terence Stamp in the story of a disastrous journey to Mars. While exploring the planet, most of the crew becomes stranded, leaving the ship's captain to decide whether to return to Earth without them or attempt a near-impossible rescue.
Much like the battle of the volcanoes a few years back, 2000 is shaping up to be the war for Martian domination. Yet while the interest in the current Mars debacle is something studio folks are not likely to overlook as the marketing machines begin to rev around these two high-profile features, Exhibitor Relations' Paul Dergarabedian is quick to point out that timing is still everything.
"I don't think [the Mars probe news] will have much effect on these films," he said. "Events in the news need to be timely to really have much impact on a film's success. Certainly it puts Mars in the minds of people."
With both studios taking a decidedly futuristic approach (both missions are manned, and the lives of the crew are quickly put in extreme danger), the films are hoping to bring audiences a great deal closer to the action than even a working space probe could ever dream of. Though the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's apparent failure and the fates of the crews in both films seem questionable, space exploration in cinema should still be a slam-dunk.
"People love this stuff," said Dergarabedian. "They eat it up. Each of these films has its strong selling points and will be marketed in their own special way."
As to the possibility that too much Mars might spell disaster for both at the box office, Dergarabedian sees no such reason to fret.
"Look at "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," he said. "These films came out very close to one another and still did tremendous business. Films with similar subject matter can do really well at the box office."
"Mission to Mars" is expected to launch March 10, and "Red Planet" expects to blast off June 16.
Meet ABC News' new correspondent: Leonardo DiCaprio. The "Titanic" boat boy interviewed White House fellow President Clinton for the network on Friday. The piece is scheduled to air April 22 on Earth Day. ("The Beach" controversy aside, Leo's something of an eco-head these days.)
The chat between DiCaprio and Clinton took place at the White House. No word on what the two discussed, or if Leo invited Bill to join his posse.
UNLESS YOU WANT THE REALLY GOOD STUFF ON GROUPIES, IN WHICH CASE YOU MAY WANT TO CONSULT EXISTING TOMES: London's Telegraph says the three surviving Beatles -- Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr -- have reunited to publish their joint autobiography. The 360-page book, described as "the size of an edition of Encyclopedia Britannica," will be published in the fall. Per the Telegraph, the book will present the "fullest and frankest account yet" of the band.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: Top-rated late-night radio host Art Bell announced Saturday he's quitting. No, he's serious this time. Bell, who also said he was quitting in October 1998 only to return to the air two weeks later, says his last broadcast will be April 26. He blamed spurious allegations that pegged him as a child molester for his decision.
YOU CAN'T GIVE THESE THINGS AWAY THESE DAYS: Andrzej Wajda, the Polish director presented with an honorary Oscar during last week's ceremony, has, in turn, presented his honorary Oscar to a Krakow university.
A dramatization of the true story of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin who, two years after his historic moon landing in 1969, suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, ultimately losing his wife and children.