The Martian Chronicles on DVD
The post Star Wars boom in science fiction programming led to this TV mini-series
based on Ray Bradbury's famous novel.
Bradbury's science fiction leaves a lot to be desired as hard sci fi, but his
prose is gorgeous, his ideas big, and poetic, and he's always a treat to read.
His stuff hasn't always translated well to the visual media, Truffault's Fahrenheit
451 being a notable exception, but at least they try!
And such is the case with this mini series, which runs just shy of five hours.
It captures some of the spirit of Bradbury's book, but it looks kind of cheap
and it certainly drags at times.
But we're glad they did it anyway.
The series is structured into three-parts, and it manages to keep the intelligence
of Bradbury's original without resorting to the crutch of laser battles and
lots of action. In fact, there isn't a lot of action here, and that may contribute
to its leisurely pace at times.
The concept is this: near the end of the 20th century, Earth starts sending
expeditions to the red planet without knowing too much about the place (as if
Viking and the other probes - most of which, to be fair, had never happened
at the time of both the novel and the mini-series - never happened).
Martians live there, of course, and they don't cotton to these invaders and
fight back in their own way. But we need humans there to advance the story,
so the planet is colonized, the Martians who remain are basically ghost-like
figures who mess with the heads of the humans.
As is typical of Bradbury stories, hard science isn't much in evidence (for
example, the human astronauts arrive Mars and discover a breathable atmosphere),
relying instead on human drama.
And since Bradbury's original book is basically a bunch of related short stories
(if memory serves us correctly - it's been many, many years since we read it),
the screenwriter (Richard Matheson, a giant in his own right) has created a
more overriding thread that features Col. John Wilder (Rock Hudson) as the main
character for the series.
The special effects are cheap-looking and relatively cheesy, but the overall
look and feel of the series is pretty neat.
There's quite a bit to like here, with the caveat that this is no classic;
bottom line is that they've actually done a reasonable job of bringing the essence
of Bradbury's book to the small screen, though it does move at a leisurely pace.
The cast also includes Bernie Casey, Darren McGavin, Fritz Weaver, Roddy McDowall,
Bernadette Peters and Maria Schell, all of whom bring a wealth of experience
and cinematic credibility to the story - and that helps.
The DVD breaks the series into its original three part presentation, which
of course is just how it should be. They could have put the whole shebang onto
one disc, but rather they've used one side of a disc for each episode, so what
you get is two discs, of which the second side of the second one is blank. Seems
like a waste of plastic to us, but what do we know?
The picture is presented in its original full frame format, which of course
doesn't fill the 16x9 TV screen so if your set is prone to burn in you'll want
to stretch and/or zoom the picture. Overall quality is good, not great, but
Audio is Dolby Digital mono, and it's unremarkable but acceptable considering
the original source.
There are no extras, though the first two episodes do tease the following ones.
The Martian Chronicles, from MGM Home Entertainment
293 min. Full frame (1.33:1, not 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Rock Hudson, Gayle Hunnicutt, Bernie Casey, Roddy McDowall, Darren
Produced by Andrew Donally and Milton Subotsky,
Written by Richard Matheson, directed by Michael Anderson
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