Saturday, December 19, 2015

Crimson Force (Brainstorm Media, Unified Film Organization [UFO], Universal, 2005)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The next film on the program, Crimson Force, a 2005 production from Universal Pictures for what I think was then still called the Sci-Fi Channel but now bears the ridiculous name “syfy” (it’s supposed to be pronounced the same way but I can’t help but read it as “see-fee”), was considerably better. Either that or it was just marginally better but looked considerably better because we were watching it right after the awful Martian Land! It took place in 2044, when the first human mission to Mars is about to land on the planet; it’s a co-venture between the World Government and a giant corporation called Xy-something or other, and according to the film’s writers, Thomas P. Vitale and Rob Mecarini, the company is actually more powerful than the government. Eight months earlier the company and the government raced each other to be the first to get to the moon, and by inserting a saboteur on the government’s spaceship the company got there first and laid claim to all the moon’s resources for their own profit instead of the greater good of all humanity. (Like Martian Land, Crimson Force offers at least mild anti-corporate and pro-environmental social commentary; apparently at least some mass-market science-fiction is still being aimed at progressives instead of the libertarians who seem to dominate the sci-fi audience today.) The eight crew members survive the crash but realize that landing has used so much of their fuel there’s no way they can leave Mars again unless they discover something there that can be adapted to power their spaceship. Then one of the crew members realizes that Mars is a sphere with a giant tetrahedron embedded inside, and at each of the points where the tetrahedron intersects the surface, there’s a limitless supply of free energy available for the taking. Crimson Force is in a way the reverse of Martian Land; instead of a good idea for a movie being sabotaged by an untalented director, writer and actors, Crimson Force is an example of a talented director, good writers and a professionally competent cast wasting themselves on a fundamentally silly plot idea.

The astronauts discover a giant pyramid on Mars’ surface and note that every unmanned probe that has attempted a landing on that part of Mars — which, of course, just happens to be one of the points where the tetrahedron intersects the surface and therefore free, limitless energy is available — and they enter the pyramid and encounter a race of native Martians. When they made the trip the crew was divided between four members from the government and four from the corporation, but the corporate commander, Baskin (C. Thomas Howell, the only cast member I’d heard of before), insists that one of the people on “his” side of the crew is actually a spy for the government determined to sabotage the corporate part of the mission and kill the company’s crew members so the government, not the company, will get rights to Mars’ energy resources. The crew members and their sponsoring organizations also believed there were no native Martians because they’d never seen any on the planet’s surface, and neither had the unmanned Mars probes that had explored the planet before. What they didn’t realize is that all Martians now live underground because centuries earlier the over-exploitation of their resources and pollution of their land had made the surface uninhabitable even for them. The conflicts among the earthlings between government and company crew members are mirrored in the conflicts among the Martians between those who believe Mars and Earth should make contact with each other and work together to help solve each other’s environmental problems and do trade between the planets, and those who want to keep Mars isolated. One of the women on the crew is an anthropologist who notes that the Martian writing looks very much like ancient Sumerian, the world’s oldest known written language, and eventually it turns out that the human race as we know it today is the product of a Martian invasion in prehistoric times; the Martians themselves couldn’t survive long in earth’s atmosphere but some of the Martian men lasted long enough to mate with human females, creating the Cro-Magnon species that drove the Neanderthals into extinction and ultimately evolving into the human race as we know it — only, because the Martian leaders realized that Earth’s environment would be fatal to them, the only people they sent to Earth were criminals and other undesirables they wanted to eliminated. Because Earthlings are therefore descended from Mars’ worst-of-the-worst, the Martians — or at least some of them — are determined to keep their own planet from being contaminated with our horrible levels of violence and their race pure from any pollution from Earthlings’ genes.

Two of the crew members are killed when their spacesuits’ air pipes are pulled by Martian storm troopers sneaking up behind them; another, Boudin (Jeff Gimble), is killed by Baskin when he suspects (wrongly) that Boudin is the World Government spy; Williams (Steven Williams), the token Black on the crew, is wounded by a Martian weapon but brought back to life and health by Marduk (Tony Amendola), top-billed, who as the head of the Martian priesthood is also head of state for the planet, and his assistant Zu (Taylor Mack Bowyer). This convinces Ambrose (David Chokachi), the top World Government official on the crew, and Mara (Nina Salza Burns), whom he’s growing more attracted to even though she’s part of the corporate team — until she reveals to him that she is the government’s spy on the corporate crew, which convinces him that she’s all right and leads them to a movie clinch. While all this is going on the corporate commander Baskin has been approached by Shara (Teresa Livingstone), who thanks to an arranged marriage is the wife of Marduk as well as the head of Mars’ warrior caste, which wants to overthrow the priesthood and take over. Shara wants Baskin to kill Marduk, and to lure him into doing that she tells him she’s part of the faction that wants closer relations between Mars and Earth — that’s actually Marduk’s position and she’s one of the Martian isolationists — and also offers him her body, along with a sexual enhancement toy that’s a translucent glowing red pyramid model (it reminded both me and another attendee of the “Orgasmatron” in Woody Allen’s film Sleeper). It takes until the end of the film for Baskin to realize he’s being used, and by the time it’s all over Marduk has had Shara arrested for treason and all the earthlings are dead except Williams, who chooses to stay behind on Mars rather than return to Earth; and Ambrose and Mara, who get to fly their ship back to Earth using Mars’s super-energy source, which the World Government will hold and use on behalf of all the people of Earth. (In the real world, of course, the corporation would bribe the government officials, gain control of the energy source and use it to ensure the survival of the future Earth’s 1 percent while everyone else suffered misery, privation and starvation as they had to do without.) Crimson Force is a well-made movie, but the problem is the basic premise; it’s as silly as the plots of the Flash Gordon serials (indeed, it basically is a Flash Gordon serial with only minimal updating) and one wonders both why talented, intelligent filmmakers bothered with it and why Universal and the Sci-Fi Channel wanted to put something this retro on the air.