children of mars

The Martians Invade Your Movie Screen!!

----After the books, after the radio programs, here come the Mars science fiction movies. Aelita: Queen of Mars was one of the very first movies made about Mars. This was in 1924, far before countries were sending spacecrafts to Mars.
The movie is actually based on a novella (of the same title) by Alexei Tolstoy. Aelita’s world is very much different from our own, with doors that open like “camera aperatures, columns that arb like rib bones, stairs that start one direction and then twist back in other directions.” Gor, the guardian of the planet’s energy dresses in plastic tubes, while Aelita wears a hat with long spikes radiating out along it.

----Now, by this time no one knew if life actually existed on Mars. This was before any spacecrafts had been sent out to observe the red planet. How exactly did people get the idea there was life then?

----Scientist fueled the public’s imagination as well as their own. Layering papers and reports over each other until the possibility became very much plausible. In 1698 Christiaan Huygens published Cosmotheros, which discusses the possibility of life on Mars and what it would take to exist. By 1784, Sir William Herschel, a man who believed that every planet was host of some form of life (even on the Sun!) , published a paper that speculated Martians “probably enjoy a situation similar to out own.” Later on in 1877 Giovanni Schiaparelli see streaks on the surface of Mars and calls them “canali” which was wrongly thought to mean “canals” and thusly giving the idea that not only was there life on Mars but it was creating massive canals. That idea died off when in 1894 Edward Barnard reports that he hasn’t found any evidence of canals.

----Before any spacecrafts were sent to Mars, more movies had been made about the planet, including Rocketship X-M (1950) and The Angry Red Planet (1959) to name just a few. Rocketship X-M was a pioneer in the space craze of the fifties and went beyond the simplistic alien/space monster versus Earth. It details a small space crew going to the moon, but instead the rocketship veers of it’s allotted path and ends up on Mars. Mars turns out to be a desolate planet with barbarian Martians whose past warns the crew of their future on Earth.

----The Angry Red Planet is another story. A different crew of astronauts sets out for Mars to do research about the planet and collect samples. When they arrive and begin their work, the Martians perceive their presence to be threatening and “begin a war on the intruders.”

----The first spacecraft to capture and send close-up images of Mars was the Mariner 4 in 1964. As the pictures came in, scientists were shown a world with numerous craters, very similar to the surface of our own moon. It was later determined that the images covered only about one percent of the Martian surface and showed a much older portion of the planet. They found that the surface pressure was considerably lower than Earth’s, but still did not know whether or not Mars has an intrinsic magnetic field. There is still no evidence of life on Mars.

----Science fiction movies continued being made and around the time of the Mariner 4 launch, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) and Mars Needs Women (1966) had been created.

----Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, is a ridiculous and dated movie even for its time. Anyway, it tells the story of Martian children who are depressed, constantly watching Earth’s television programs. So the older (?) Martians decide to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him back to Mars in an effort to cheer up the Martian children. The second movie, Mars Needs Women, is basically a mirror of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, except this time the Martians kidnap women. The reason for this is that there was a genetic problem and only one Martian female was born for every 100 Martian male. So the leaders of Mars petition the Earth for women, and the Earth says no. The Martians won’t go down without a fight and to send 4 Martian men to seduce women and take them back to Mars. It doesn’t work out, and eventually they have to return to their home planet empty handed. This is sixties science fiction for you.
----Five years later in 1969, NASA launched Mariner 6 & 7; identical spacecrafts that were entirely created to further the study of Mars. Of course, there had been advances in technology then, including a image and data transmitter that was almost 2000 times faster than Mariner 4 (although these spacecrafts were considerably heavier.) They picked up about 200 close and far encounter images altogether. What the two spacecrafts found is more important: there was “dust suspended in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide ice and water clouds, carbon monoxide, ionized hydrogen and oxygen.” But Mariner 6 & 7 did not find an ozone layer or the presence of nitrogen; which are important pieces to maintaining life on Earth.

----I must say that I have not found any movies that were created around the Mariner 6 & 7 missions in 1969. There is an apparent lack of Mars science fiction movies after 1966 all the way up to 1989. That is 23 years. Hmm.

----Mariner 9 was meant to have a twin like Mariner 6 & 7, but Mariner 8’s main engine shut down and the whole thing crashed into the Atlantic near Puerto Rico. Mariner 9 went along without a hitch in 1971 and collected over 7000 images. (Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos are photographed as well.) Its advanced images revealed “large dust storms, ancient river beds, craters (we already knew that), massive extinct volcanoes, canyons, ice clouds, layered polar deposits… and morning fogs.” When evidence of water being existent in Mars’ past, interest was sparked anew as to whether or not life existed on Mars.

----Viking 1 & 2 were launched in 1975 landed on Mars a year later. They were the first spacecrafts to be successfully landed on the surface of another planet. Besides just taking pictures and collecting data, the Viking 1 & 2 were designed to look for life in three different ways. They found strange chemical activity in the soil, but no clear evidence for living microorganisms in the soil. Scientists have since concluded that Mars is self-sterilizing (No chance for life these days). In part by the solar radiation on the surface, the extreme dryness of the soil and “the oxidizing nature of the soil.”

----Lobster Man from Mars (1989) is one the several movies made after the Viking misson, but it is extremely doubtful that they used any of the recent discoveries to add to their plot. Again, we have a monster attacking the Earth. The reason being that Mars is running out of air, in desperation the king of Mars seeks help from a brain in a jar, who tells him to send Lobster Man. Honestly, I’m not sure how that helps with the air problem.

----The most recent spacemission has been the Mars Pathfinder that was launched in 1996. It landed in Ares Vallis, choosen because of it’s larger array of rocks from a catastrophic flood. Pathfinder sent back “16,500 images from the lander, 550 images from the rover and more than 15 chemical analysis from rocks and soil. Scientist believe that at one point Mars was warm and wet with a thicker atmoshpere.

----Red Planet (2000) is one of the last Mars sci-fi movies to date. It is 2025 and the Earth is so polluted that life is just barely exists (amazingly plausible) and so scientists decide to grow algae on Mars to create air and move people there. During the process though, the algae disappears and the air is evaporating. A team of astronauts is sent out to fix the problem, but everything goes wrong, and killer insects and a broken robot after them.

----Although the plot lines really don’t seem to coincide with scientific discoveries over the years, you can at least see the sets changing. The views of Mars are less earth-like, the aliens cease to look like human until, reflecting on Red Planet, we only have insects on the planet.