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Flight to Mars

Flight to Mars: a mostly forgotten sci-fi classic comes to Blu-ray

By Jim Bray
August 2, 2021

It may not be in the league of Forbidden Planet or Destination Moon, but Flight to Mars is a fun outing from the early 1950's, when the exploration of space was starting to become a hot topic for Hollywood to handle.

And now it's out on a special edition Blu-ray, from the Film Detective.

I try to stay away from Blu-rays these days, preferring to help the 4K disc format find an audience, but once in a while a title will come along that intrigues me enough to break that rule of thumb. And this is one.

I'd never seen Flight to Mars before, though I've certainly heard of it, and I've certainly seen my share of such flicks over the years. My favourite space movie from that time is Destination Moon, the George Pal-produced look at how a trip to Earth's satellite may have looked to post World War II society. It was a serious and quite scientifically accurate story that benefited from the mind of the great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein.

Flight to Mars doesn't have that benefit. In fact, it starts off seeming like it's going to be a "poor man's" Destination Moon, but it goes a lot farther than just charting a flight to Earth's nearest planetary neighbour and back and actually raises some pretty hefty issues both scientific and cultural. It's a neat yarn.

Just don't pay any attention to the "science" of the actual flight to Mars, because it's twaddle at best.

Still, I really enjoyed watching the movie and am glad to have had the opportunity. In fact, I might just watch it again soon.

The film stars Cameron Mitchell as a journalist chosen to take the trip to the red planet to document it for posterity, and Marguerite Chapman as the love – or is it lust? – interest. She's a scientist in love with her colleague, who's also aboard and who doesn't even notice that she's a woman (apparently).

The plot follows five humans – four big forehead types and the writer – whose trip to the fourth planet is a success, but which only begins their adventure thanks to what they find on Mars after their crash landing there. And I'm not going to spoil it by telling you. 

It's a pretty minor classic of the genre, but it's fun and the production values are quite good for the era.

Running a mere 72 minutes – and boy, do they get a lot into that short running time! – the disc also comes with a commentary track and a couple of featurettes dealing with Mirisch and with the genre at the time.

And while the science of the space flight is twaddle, probably because they didn't have a Heinlein on hand, there's some pretty neat discussion of some pretty deep scientific concepts. And Heinlein does get his due in one of the featurettes, not only for his work on Destination Moon but also Project Moonbase (a very minor but enjoyable title, if you can find it).

Produced by Walter Mirisch, who went on to put his name onto such films as Some Like it Hot, the Magnificent Seven, the Great Escape and the Pink Panther, the movie was filmed in Cinecolor and the press materials for the Blu-ray say the new disc was made from the original separations.

That said, the picture quality is only average when compared with some of the fantastic-looking titles out there, but it's still eminently watchable, with reasonable detail and very nice colour.  

The Flight to Mars Blu-ray is from a 4K transfer (so why isn't there a 4K disc version, huh?), sourced from the original 35-millimetre negatives, and the restoration was finished at Paramount Pictures Archive.

While the video is perfectly serviceable, the audio, not surprisingly, leaves something to be desired. In fact, the first section of the film seems to have sound emanating mostly from the front right channel, though this does appear to correct itself later and the rest of the film, as it should, sounds like it's coming from the centre front channel.

The two documentary shorts, from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, are the abovementioned "Walter Mirisch: From Bomba to Body Snatchers", a look at the celebrated producer's career, as well as "Interstellar Travelogues: Cinema's First Space Race," hosted by "celebrated" science-fiction artist/historian Vincent Di Fate. I enjoyed this one in particular, and this is the feature that gives Heinlein – my all-time favourite author – his much overdue due.

There's also an audio commentary track featuring author/film historian Justin Humphreys, and an enjoyable colour booklet with the essay, Mars at the Movies, by author Don Stradley, inside the box.

Sci-fi aficionados and nerds alike will undoubtedly enjoy this fairly minor but quite fun entry in the early 1950's speculative fiction library. It doesn't make a lot of sense in places, and it appears that the real Mars is quite different from the one pictured here, but it makes up for that with a compelling story, excellent performances, and good production values.

Give it a try!

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray

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