November 28th is Red Planet Day. The great thing about an unofficial day of celebration and commemoration of Mars is that you have sooooo many movies from which to choose as a means of comfortably rejoicing in all things about the Red Planet. Of course, it may be worth keeping in mind that Red Planet Day actually memorializes the launch of NASA’s first probe to Mars, Mariner 4.
Red Planet Mars
Red Planet Day affords the unique possibility of using movies about Mars to learn more about one of the darkest periods in American history. “Red Planet Mars” is a title that offers layers of meaning. Yes, of course, it refers to the redness of the planet. But the title of “Red Planet Mars” also refers to the danger to the American way of life that was thought to be in the hands of a bunch of Reds working in jobs that could influence the bulk of the American population. If you love low budget science fiction movies of the 1950s that actually had more to say than many of the big budget movies of the 1950s, then may love “Red Planet Mars.” The only problem is that what this entry has to say is utterly stupid.
Quatermass and the Pit aka Five Million Years to Earth
“Quatermass and the Pit” is such an incredible movie that I have written an entire article on it. I even called it the best science fiction movie of a year that also witnessed the release of both “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes.” If you really want to get a handle on this extraordinary film that posits the notion that humans are the hybrid offspring of a self-genocidal Martian race, then be sure to read the section devoted to in “Lipstick Traces” by the great Greil Marcus.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
If “Quatermass and the Pit” represents the peak of cinematic achievement as it relates to films about the Red Planet, then a case can certainly be made that “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” represents the nadir. And that is saying something because a lot of bad movies have been made that touch upon Mars. I recommended “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” primarily because Red Planet Day falls during the Christmas season. Also because the film was riffed to shreds by the fine folks on the Satellite of Love. The MST3K version may well be the only way to get through the movie for some.
Aelita: Queen of Mars
The flip side of “Red Planet Mars” is this silent piece of Soviet cinema that upends the ideological certainty of 1950s Hollywood that capitalism is the answer to all of earth’s problems. “Aelita: Queen of Mars” even includes foresees the same kind of twist ending that the later American movie introduces for purposes both narrative and thematic in function.