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Review of/ Rant about The Red Planet

By shook in Op-Ed
Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 05:49:37 PM EST
Tags: Movies (all tags)

I saw truly the worst movie I have ever seen in my life yesterday. The Red Planet. It was the first movie I have ever seen where I actually got stressed out, because it made so little sense. Is this the start of some anti-science conspiracy, or just more Hollywood drivel?

This is my first rant, and I am a little proud of it :-) Possible topics of discussion include, why is science so often cut out of Sci-Fi movies? What did you think about The Red Planet? How do some movies like The Matrix succeed so wonderfully in suspending disbelief, while others fail miserably?

The Red Planet definitely surpasses Armageddon in the "Recent Movies" circle of crappy Sci-Fi hell. I am OK with Sci-Fi that has no science (Star Wars, Matrix), or Sci-Fi that stresses the limits of science (Star Trek). But have problems with movies like Armageddon that are full of bad science. Yet somehow, The Red Planet seems openly hostile toward science.

It starts off with Carrie-Anne Moss introducing all the characters. Almost literally, the introduction goes like this: "Here's the arrogant science guy, here's the womanizing pilot, here is the mechanic, here is the philosophical doctor." It is sad and disgusting in its mediocrity. They say the Earth has been so polluted, that they must terraform Mars to save humanity. How in the hell could the Earth be so bad off, that it would be easier to move to a place with little-to-no oxygen, and extremely low temperatures and air pressure? I could look past this, if they had bothered to explain what was so bad about Earth in the first place.

While orbiting Mars, they get stuck in some ambiguous solar flare storm that it practically destroys their piece-of-crap ship. This is where I started to notice that everything about this entire mission is poorly planned. Most 20th century cars are designed better than the equipment they have. I realized that this is not a space mission as it would be planned by aerospace engineers, this is how a space mission would go if it was planned by Hollywood directors. So it's no wonder that everything falls apart.

I could go into many aspects of how unrealistically unplanned this Mars mission is, but that would be nitpicky, long, and tedious instead. I will provide a good few choice examples.

Why are they so frequently in communication blackout? They send people to Mars, they plant life on Mars, they build habitats on Mars. But they don't put up a couple of lousy relay satellites?

There was a cool-looking robot that had a friendly "Navigator Mode" and a lethal "Military Mode." OK, why can it even go into military mode? Shouldn't they disable that for the Mars mission? This robot breaks all kinds of Asimov rules, but I won't go into that. After it starts malfunctioning, it purposefully breaks a guy's rib. It could have easily killed all three of them. Val Kilmer says the robot is "playing war games" The robot plays these games all through the movie. Why would a military robot, obviously designed to kill, play games? It makes no sense.

There is a wonderful scene where the male explorers are urinating. They are all laughing, because their urine is arcing up at a much higher angle than it would on Earth (because of lower gravity). That is all fine and dandy, but why is nothing other than urine affected by the lowered gravity???? Why do they walk exactly the same, why do objects fall at the same acceleration on Mars as they do on Earth?

Probably the most scientifically stupid guy on the mission is the "Science" guy. He's a geneticist. But in the course of bragging about how cool he is, he says that the bases of DNA are A, G, T, and P !!!!!! I would expect any high school graduate to know that they are A, G, T and C. Maybe the directors didn't know that. Maybe the film-makers have never seen Gattaca. But they could have bothered to look it up. Also, the science guy instantly calls the insectoid, explosive life-forms they find "nematodes." They look nothing like nematodes!!!! Nematodes are unsegmented roundworms. The creatures in the movie looked like insects. Would it have been so hard for them to call the creatures "arthropods?"

You could say that the unrealistic robot, crappy equipment, and blackout periods were there to add suspense. You could also argue that it would be too expensive to realistically depict Martian gravity. Fine. But what is the reason for the two unnecessary biological inaccuracies? There were a lot of unnecessary physics goof-ups, but being a biologist, I am not as qualified to discuss them.

Among its many lame, poorly-explored themes, one of them is an extremely shallow, half-hearted discussion between "The Scientist" and "The Philosopher" about the whole Science vs. Faith thing. I think this movie may have actually been hostile toward science. I just have this sick feeling in the back of my head, that the film-makers are purposefully spreading inaccuracies as a part of some subversive plot. But I can't back that up.

As a scientist, I will just follow Ockham's razor. The much simpler explanation is not that The Red Planet is some anti-science conspiracy. It is just an extremely dumb movie.


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What did you think about The Red Planet?
o Haven't seen it 73%
o Great stuff! 0%
o Entertaining 3%
o OK 0%
o Mediocre 0%
o Horrible 6%
o It was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there 17%

Votes: 64
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o The Red Planet
o Gattaca
o "arthropod s?"
o Also by shook

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Review of/ Rant about The Red Planet | 30 comments (26 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Sci-Fi Mars (3.33 / 3) (#1)
by Arkady on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 02:06:54 PM EST

I've found that, since I read Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars Trilogy", I'm completely unable to get into any other Sci-Fi on the topic. I even tried to read Ben Bova's recent Mars book, but was completely put off by how poor the characters and plotting were by comparison (though, as is normal with Bova, I couldn't really fault his science).

Robinson's trilogy takes an incredibly lifelike and realistic cast, chosen from a wonderfully probable theory as to the colonist selection process, into a world of completely accurate modern science and reasonably projected future science. Over the course of centuries he gollows this cast through this world.

Though his politics do see significant play in the books, I happen to agree quite closely with him on that, so it's really a bonus to me. ;-)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

oops; spelling (1.00 / 2) (#2)
by Arkady on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 02:10:07 PM EST

That last sentence in the second paragraph should read "he follows this cast". The similarity to "gallows" was too close for me not to correct it.

Since K5's preview function still doesn't work for either Net+ or Opera, I very rarely use it. Perhaps, Rusty, we could talk a bit about why it's broken for these browsers (the only ones available for BeOS)? ;-)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
"Arkady" (2.66 / 3) (#4)
by Arkady on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 02:25:57 PM EST

Actually, it occurs that I should point out that anyone who's read the books would probably have guessed that I really enjoyed them and side with a lot of the politics in them. After all, my login name here _is_ Arkady, taken from the Anarchist philosopher/designer character among the original 101 settlers, Arkady Bogdanovich ... ;-)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
Arkady (2.00 / 2) (#5)
by shook on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 02:34:52 PM EST

I wondered about that name. But I also thought you might be Russian. :-) Yes, I'm a big fan of Robinson's work too. So that may have spoiled me some.

[ Parent ]
Movie of Robinson's books? (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by kovacsp on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 03:17:56 PM EST

I heard a rumor a little while ago that a miniseries was being made about the books. Anybody know if this is true?

Unfortunately, I never got through Blue Mars, due to a lack of time, so I'm not really sure how it ends, but I really liked Red Mars. The books seemed so well researched that I think they should be used as a basis for any mars colonization missions in the future!

[ Parent ]
I'm hesitant (3.00 / 1) (#9)
by Arkady on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 03:35:30 PM EST

I really don't know what I'd think about that; the books are incredibly good, and good TV shows and movies have been made that accurately carried through the original work's qualities. But not very many, in my opinion, and the general level of quality in American TV and film is pretty low (to bring us back on topic ... ;-).

A well made series based on the books would be great; I just don't think that we should expect any probable adaptation to be very good.

The Real World planners of any future Mars missions should definitely look to Robinson's speculation for guidance. Like all the best of Sci-Fi, he performs an admirable thought experiment in near-Earth colonisation. I think they could learn a lot from his discussion of the issues of colonist selection, in particular.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
Couldn't stand KSR (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by sugarman on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 05:34:34 PM EST

I'm going to dissent with you on KSR's "Mars" trilogy. Got about 2/3 through Red, and put it down. Couldn't stand it anymore. I'm not sure what exactly cheesed me off, but it gave me the same kind of vibe that ACC's "Rama II" did.

Basically, while the science is neat, is seems to lack a basis in human sociology. And by this, I don't mean the interactions within the colonists, which weren't bad, but the way they were sent off. Maybe for something this big, I'm expecting to see D-Day or Desert Storm levels of operation. Landing party makes the beachhead followed immediately by reinforcements, etc, etc. This nagged at me and bugged me enough to put the book<s> down.

I am curious if there is anyone else on k5 who didn't like KSR's trilogy? The acclaim seems to be pretty universal, and I wonder if I'm the lone dissenter. For those that do like it: why?
[ Parent ]

KSR & Rama (none / 0) (#27)
by Denor on Sun Nov 12, 2000 at 01:41:36 PM EST

I am curious if there is anyone else on k5 who didn't like KSR's trilogy ... for those that do like it: why?

I think one of the reasons I got into the book was because it was very easy for me to suspend disbelief, mainly because the characters were very realistic to me. You're right about the organization of the missions, it doesn't seem quite right upon reflection, but it didn't really bug me at the time.

...but it gave me the same kind of vibe that ACC's "Rama II" did.

I didn't like Rama II (and the other sequels) either. To me, it didn't really seem they were the same type of book at all. The original Rama was very mysterious, and read a great deal like an exploration of something. In the end, not a whole lot gets explained to you. In the others, there's much less of an exploratory angle, and you know most the answers when you're done reading. On their own, they seem to be good enough books, but I didn't like them in series like they were.

With discussion like this, maybe someone should start a 'favorite sci-fi books' story and let people comment :)


[ Parent ]
Not "The Red Planet" (3.28 / 7) (#3)
by puzzlingevidence on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 02:10:52 PM EST

The movie is titled Red Planet and not The Red Planet.

The communications blackouts were appropriate; there was no opportunity for them to build relay satellites, since the emergency occurs almost immediately upon achieving orbit.

The introduction of the characters by the commander-as-narrator is a tried-and-true film device, and worked very well here.

Yes, some of the science was dumb, and the screenplay could have used a good edit (vis: ATGP and 'nematode'), and the existence of the critters was never really explained.

That doesn't stop the movie from being entertaining and suspenseful. The dialogue was sharp, and the effects shots worked well (although the CGI was too obvious in many scenes and it was hard to shake the foreknowledge that the habitat area was filmed in Vancouver, BC).

Overall, it appears that critics like the movie, and I didn't feel that I wasted my ticket price.

A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge

Re: Not "The Red Planet" (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by shook on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 02:42:40 PM EST

The communications blackouts were appropriate; there was no opportunity for them to build relay satellites, since the emergency occurs almost immediately upon achieving orbit.

I meant relay sattelites that should have been there before they even reached the planet. Actually, if they would have said "All our sattelites were destroyed by the storm", that might have been OK.

The introduction of the characters by the commander-as-narrator is a tried-and-true film device, and worked very well here.

I would say overused film device, but you are entitled to your opinion. I guess what really got to me about this movie, was that there were so many actions, scenes, and occurences that made so little sense, the mistakes became distracting. It became impossible for me to even think about the other elements of the movie (like special effects). An opposite of Red Planet might be ID4. I loved it when I first saw it. It was only the second time I saw it that I realized how ridiculous it was :-)

[ Parent ]

While we're ranting about anti-science movies (2.50 / 4) (#7)
by kaboom on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 02:45:51 PM EST

I found another movie you mentioned, Gattaca, to be just as non-scientific. It's the only movie I can think of which actually offended me, particularly the ending....

what's so unscientific about Gattaca? (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by boxed on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 03:49:15 PM EST

What's so unscientific about Gattaca? Ok, the amount of information they could get out of DNA was just absurd, but it was also wrong. This was the entire point of the movie.

[ Parent ]
What *exactly* offended you? (none / 0) (#28)
by kostya on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 11:09:44 AM EST

I have to confess to having a hard time believeing you--since I loved Gattaca so much.

Gattaca was NOT a science movie--Gattaca was what science fiction is when it is at its best: about human beings. Gattaca was all about human beings allowing technology or science to be a new boundary. They refused to think beyond the confines of the genetic information science gave them. They forgot about the human spirit.

If you didn't understand why the "perfect" character committed suicide in the end, then perhaps you missed the point of the movie. I, for one, identified with some of that character's doubts and fears. I was inspired by Ethan Hawke's character. The older brother is an incredible character--haunted by the fact that he is *supposed* to be better, but still cannot best the inferior brother.

All in all, Gattaca is on my list as one of the better movies of this decade. It uses science as a tool to expose the true state of the human condition. And that makes for a real good movie.

You don't have to like the movie; but I am at a loss to see how the ending would offend you.

Veritas otium parit. --Terence
[ Parent ]
Problems with Gattica (none / 0) (#29)
by kagaku_ninja on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 10:01:17 PM EST

I'm not the originator of this thread but...

Our hero cleverly fools the gene testing machines for years, but neglects to bring a urine satchel on the day of the launch.

Even though we are in a society where people are constantly subjected to genetic tests at the drop of a hat, they apparently don't even bother to monitor biometrics of astronaut sent on space missions. Thus, no one notices our hero's myopia, irregular heartbeat, or the fact that his urine/blood samples don't match the database. (And they don't wear space suits either)

Not being a biologist, I can't really comment on the feasability of instant gene-analysis (other than to be skeptical). However, the common means of collecting data is to puncture your thumb using a needle. Hello? AIDS anyone? (OK, maybe the needle is one-use, still... non-invasive biometrics such as retinal scans or finger prints would be preferable. Of course, such methods are not genetic, and wouldn't support the "beat the viewer over the head" theme of the movie)

The brother's macho test is to swim out to sea, until one collapses from exhaustion. Our hero, after beating his genetically superior brother through sheer willpower, somehow has the energy left to: notice his brothers cries for help during a rainstorm, dive underwater and locate him at night, then swim back to shore while dragging his limp body. The explaination for how he accomplished this is "I didn't save anything for the swim back". Huh????

In a society obsessed with gene testing and "ladder-thieves", nobody thinks it strange that our hero vacuums his keyboard after class.

Gene testing and modification are bad, because it will be used create a new form of discrimination. Never mind the fact that it can eliminate all birth defects and genetic disorders...

No doubt a biologist can poke holes in the science...

[ Parent ]
correction: (3.00 / 3) (#10)
by boxed on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 03:42:07 PM EST

The Red Planet definitely surpasses Armageddon in the "Recent Movies" circle of crappy Sci-Fi hell. I am OK with Sci-Fi that has no science (Star Wars, Matrix), or Sci-Fi that stresses the limits of science (Star Trek).
Star Trek breaks science many a time (the voyager episode when they shot a hole in the event horizon of a black hole comes to mind) and I can't frankly see how the Matrix could have "no science". The Matrix adds upp so nicely it doesn't need all the last minute explanations Star Trek gets all the time.

Note that I love Star Trek and I know tons and tons of Star Trek technobabble, so this is not a dis of ST.

A special form of fusion... (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by delmoi on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 05:07:41 PM EST

One of the things I actually liked about The Matrix was its use of science. Basically, they knew they couldn't scientifically explain things (like how entropy wouldn't eventually take over) so they just mentioned "a special form of fusion", and nothing else. Since they couldn't explain things without bugging people, they didn't even bother.

Of course, some people got bugged by the lack of entropy in the world, but less probably then if they had spent 5 blabing on about things people knew were false...
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
entropy? (none / 0) (#21)
by boxed on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 05:33:53 PM EST

You seem to have missed one of the laws of thermodynamics: the entropy is 0 at 0 kelvin, meaning that the colder a system is the less entropy.

What you need to do is read the script for the Matrix obviously, there is an explanation for it in there. They cut it out of the final movie though just as they cut half of the final phone call (which in my mind fucked up the movie bad).

[ Parent ]

Where'd you get a script? (none / 0) (#24)
by ZanThrax on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 08:39:19 PM EST

and what's the rest of the final phone call?

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

it's on the DVD (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by boxed on Sun Nov 12, 2000 at 04:22:31 AM EST

This is the original script for the phone call:

Close on a computer screen as in the opening. The cursor beating steadily, waiting. A phone begins to ring.

It is answered and the screen fills instantly with the trace program. After a long beat, we recognize Neo's voice.

NEO (V.O.)
Hi. It's me. I know you're out there. I can feel you now.

We close in on the racing columns of numbers shimmering across the screen.

NEO (V.O.)
I imagine you can also feel me.

The numbers begin to lock into place.

NEO (V.O.)
You won't have to search for me anymore. I'm done running. Done hiding. Whether I'm done fighting, I suppose, is up to you.

We glide in towards the screen.

NEO (V.O.)
I believe deep down, we both want this world to change. I believe that the Matrix can remain our cage or it can become our chrysalis, that's what you helped me to understand. That to be free, truly free, you cannot change your cage. You have to change yourself.

We dive through the numbers, surging up through the darkness, sucked towards a tight constellation of stars.

NEO (V.O.)
When I used to look out at this world, all I could see was its edges, its boundaries, its rules and controls, its leaders and laws. But now, I see another world. A different world where all things are possible. A world of hope. Of peace.

We realize that the constellation is actually the holes in the mouthpiece of a phone. Seen from inside.

NEO (V.O.)
I can't tell you how to get there, but I know if you can free your mind, you'll find the way

(The scene when he flies away...)

[ Parent ]

Human batteries (1.00 / 1) (#25)
by Ludwig on Sun Nov 12, 2000 at 01:32:23 AM EST

I was kind of curious as to what special bio-energy is so particular to humans as to preclude the use of less troublesome organisms. Cows or bugs or lobotomized humans or basically anything that wouldn't require this elaborate artificial reality.

[ Parent ]
I didn't think it was that bad of an idea, actualy (none / 0) (#30)
by delmoi on Thu Nov 16, 2000 at 11:01:45 AM EST

First of all, the machines probably wanted to use as much of a standard setup as posible, and the fact is, as far as large mamals go, there are far more humans around now then anything else. Orders of magnatude more, if I was going to do this, I would probably try to use humans to, just beacuse there are billions to start with.

As for the artifical reality thing, it may have been intended as a way for humans to keep their minds active, and as a result keep their bodies healthy
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Step Away From the Ticket Booth... (2.00 / 5) (#12)
by eskimo on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 04:29:03 PM EST

Did you ever notice how in Loony Tunes, Wile E. Coyote sometimes seems to levitate. Now I have a couple theories about this, and neither involve Warner Bros. being against science (though they are responsible for Red Planet). Instead, I think maybe they are bad artists. The cartoonists didn't even bother to match up the frame with the background. Those assholes!

Or, all the extra anti-gravity they used in the cartoons was taken from the movie studio's anti-gravity budget, hence everything but urine fell at 9.8m/s^2 (did you and Ralph Nader time that in the front row of the theater? Was there a 'high five,' Nader exclaiming, 'AT LEAST THEY GOT THE PEE RIGHT!'). I have serious problems with a movie studio squandering their gravity budget on cartoons. I heard Universal passed on this one just because they blew their anti-gravity budget on Apollo 13.

Okay...first of all, that's how you rant. More sarcasm. Second of all, it was a pretty good movie. I don't go to movies to learn. I go to movies to have fun. So it is safe to say you didn't see me in the front row using triangulation and a stop watch to determine if everything but pee was falling right.

One other nitpicky little thing with your rant...has it ever occurred to you that the best group for an interplanetary mission might just be that hackneyed old assemblage portrayed in this and every other movie.

Basically, get a grip, man. If you saw this movie on the first day, then I know you have seen worse movies this year. Just because they don't know about genetics, and they didn't consult JPL to see how fast objects accellerate in freefall in martian gravity doesn't make it a bad movie.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto

Op-Ed isn't Rant (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by Arkady on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 05:00:45 PM EST

I don't know exactly why Op-Ed was brought in to replace Rant, but I think part of the reason was to broaden the category so that it wouldn't require the same level of vitriol and anger that we think belongs in a rant.

I think this piece was a more thoughtful and articulate opinion statement than I'd expect of a rant, so I think criticising it for lacking the more emotive qualities of a rant is misplaced.

A question, though: what on Earth is Ralph doing in your comment? It would seem to be a rather ad hominem attack on the fellow, casting him as a petty nitpicker; this is a rather extreme misrepresentation of the life he's spent pushing substantial legal reform in the U.S., don't you think?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
My Dad... (2.50 / 2) (#20)
by eskimo on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 05:20:27 PM EST

Last night my Dad made a funny (and probably untrue)point about how Ralph might be able to inspire kids today, but a lot of people his age resent him because he ruined 'hot rodding.' I guess the image of my Dad in all his leather jacket, drag racing glory and the image of Ralph as sort of a square (I just imagined Uma drawing one, just like in Pulp Fiction) stuck. Just remember, a caricature does not have to be mean spirited.

As for my attacking him for not ranting well enough...that was even more sarcasm. But I do feel strongly about this subject (silly as that seems), and I hope it makes it to section.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

The difference (2.33 / 3) (#17)
by shook on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 05:04:59 PM EST

There is a big difference between Looney Tunes and Red Planet. During Looney Tunes, I laugh my ass off. :-)

Actually, I haven't seen any worse movies, I don't go to see movies that often, which is probably why I was so upset I wasted my money. I also go to movies to have fun. I didn't have fun, and I felt like ranting about it.

I am realizing now that I should have included more stuff in my rant about the supsension of disbelief. Or, as my dad puts it "taking off your thinking cap." In a truly entertaining work of Sci-Fi or any other type of fiction, you are so engrossed, you don't realize how implausible it is. But something about Red Planet went horribly wrong (at least in my eyes). I feel like I have never seen anything so painful to watch. And I wonder why.

[ Parent ]

I liked it... (1.00 / 1) (#23)
by end0parasite on Sat Nov 11, 2000 at 07:07:44 PM EST

I saw Red Planet yesterday, and I saw it again today. I loved it both times.

When you go to see a movie, you're supposed to be taking a break. I love it when movies completely ignore the laws of
science. It gives one a break from reality. I just found this out when I saw Red Planet. I liked it so much, and the only
reason I can think of was because it broke the rules of reality. I was able to temporarily abandon my concept of reality.

Actually, they did have one other thing in there to demonstrate the lack of gravity. Maybe two, if you count when the
landing pod thingy was bouncing down the mountain. The other thing was when they were getting out of the pod -- I
noticed a little bit of a 'drift', if you will.

Red Planet sure beat the hell out of Mission to Mars. The latter gets you all revved up for a huge ending -- and then
lets you down! I was dissappointed.

Also, think about how much it would have sucked if they had followed every darned law of science. It would have never
sold. Same with Hackers (although that one sucked anyway).

Compliments to the writer: excellent use of foreshadowing and dramatic irony.

My favorite part of Red Planet, I'd say, is, "Alternate high energy power source, come and get me..."

Review of/ Rant about The Red Planet | 30 comments (26 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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