Film (1965; vt Horrors of the Red Planet). American General Pictures. Directed by David L Hewitt, starring Roger Gentry, Vic McGee, Jerry Rannow, Eve Bernhardt, John Carradine.Written by David L Hewitt, based on a story by Armando Busick and David L Hewitt inspired by the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by L Frank Baum.
Four astronauts – Steve (Gentry), Doc (McGee), Charlie (Rannow), and Dorothy (Bernhardt) – on a mission to orbit and survey the planet Mars encounter a strange "pulsating light" and a "magnetic storm" that force them to detach from their main stage and land on Mars. They decide to leave their Spaceship and search for the main stage, hoping that mixing oxygen from the thin Martian atmosphere with their own oxygen supplies will enable them to stay alive until they reach the main stage. They first use rafts to drift down a Martian canal which takes them underground; leaving the rafts, they then travel on foot through a vast "volcanic cavern" until they reach the surface and find traces of an ancient "golden road." They follow this to a ruined city and enter an enormous building where they find a strange body that mentally urges them to go to a "meeting place." There, they converse with a spectral "composite being" (Carradine) who explains that the Martians, who once had a great civilization that spanned the galaxy, are now trapped inside their city because they unwisely stopped Time and hence prevented themselves from reaching their "destiny." To free both the Martians and themselves, the astronauts are told to place a sphere in a mechanism driving a pendulum, which will start time again. After doing so, they run away from the seemingly collapsing city and, falling down on the sand outside, they vanish – only to reawaken within their spaceship, the men with beards, to be told by a radio voice that they have been out of touch with Earth for "two minutes", suggesting that the whole experience was a strange dream.
The idea of an sf version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has some appeal, yet apart from some superficial similarities – a cast of three male explorers and a woman named Dorothy, a journey along a yellow roadway to an enormous city – the film has little to do with Baum's classic story or its 1939 film adaptation.Its male characters do not correspond in any way to the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, and the film's "wizard" is neither magical nor fraudulent, but a lonely representative of a decadent, dying race who provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific progress that recalls Forbidden Planet (1956). Here, the advanced Aliens overreached by halting the flow of Time and dooming themselves to a form of stasis (as represented by the arrays of mummy-like figures that the explorers discover), requiring fortuitous human visitors to release them from their bondage and thus achieve, one must assume, genuine death (with intimations of a Christian afterlife as well). This sobering message contrasts sharply with the film's generally childlike aura, reflected in the dubious science of its opening crisis and the boxlike, absurdly unpersuasive Martian fish that briefly threaten them while in the canal. Most strikingly, the time-stopping pendulum, purportedly representing the pinnacle of advanced Martian Technology, is adorned with the image of a sun with a smiling face. [GW]
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