Blu-ray Review: The Last Days on Mars

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The rap against direct-to-video movies is that they generally range in quality from awful to just barely passable as a rental. The common perception is that there must be a reason they didn’t get released to cinemas. Sometimes, however, that’s an unfair stereotype as there are DTV features far better crafted and more entertaining than theatrical releases. Such is the case with the highly derivative but more than acceptable The Last Days on Mars. It’s a mixture of borrowed elements, taking its cues from Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Mission to Mars and many more, but what it lacks in originality it makes up in atmosphere.

As suggested by the title, a research crew of astronauts stationed on Mars is nearing the end of its expedition. Led by Captain Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas), they’re a weary and disgruntled bunch. Kim (Olivia Williams) is a stickler for rules, Robert (Johnny Harris) is a wishy-washy coward, and Vincent (Live Schreiber) is romantically involved with Rebecca (Romola Garai). There are others, but they’re even less defined characters. Everyone is fairly one-note, but it works reasonably well once the story gets rolling.

Last Days Mars 2 TMR.jpgDirector Ruairí Robinson (working from a screenplay by Clive Dawson) does such a good job of establishing the red planet as a believable working environment, it’s a little disappointing when the proceedings suddenly take a hard turn into horror territory. Almost as soon as scientist Marko (Goran Kostić) has discovered microscopic life forms, he’s swallowed up by a mysterious sinkhole. A search and rescue attempt leads to the discovery that the microbes are dangerous to humans, turning them into zombies (more or less). As they await the arrival of the landing unit that will take them home, the surviving crew must outrun their undead comrades.

The behavior of the infected individuals varies annoyingly from victim to victim. Some retain a degree of conscious thought while others are essentially mindless. But that aside, the strong production values and tight pacing make this one worth a look for fans of sci-fi horror. Just don’t expect it to break any new ground.

Last Days Mars 1 TMR.jpgMagnolia’s Blu-ray offers a good image and even better audio. Aside from a few instances of banding, The Last Days of Mars looks sharp and detailed in its high definition transfer. Black levels could stand to be a tad deeper, but the low contrast look is pretty consistent throughout the film and seems to have been deliberate.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix really packs a strong punch. There’s tons of surround activity, especially during the action-heavy sequences. When the infected crew members attack, the mix is quite enveloping. LFE activity is strong, too, such as when the transport vehicles drive across the rocky terrain.

The Last Days of Mars includes a few minor special features. A 15-minute “making of” featurette is the primary one, and it’s pretty standard behind-the-scenes stuff. There are a pair of a more technical-oriented featurettes, “Analyzing the Visual Effects” and “Behind the Scenes Comparisons,” that are short but interesting. Rounding things out is a three-minute AXIS TV promo piece about the film.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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