The Wizard of Mars (1965)

The Wizard of Mars

I have a confession to make. As a fairly recent convert to the joy of awful movies, I haven’t really picked up the affection for vintage 50s and 60s schlock yet. Oh, I’ve seen the obvious ones, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, and I loved it. My experience with bad 1950-1970 sci-fi and horror, though, is rather limited.

For me, it’s more fun to trash more modern, high budget/high profile stuff. As a reviewer, I tend to agree with Michael Sauter’s assessment (author of The Worst Films of All Time). Grade Z- filmmakers like Ed Wood were working with a 10th rate cast and equipment that was borrowed or stolen. Not to mention about three days to shoot and a budget so small that a modern producer would probably leave it as a tip at a restaurant (if the service had been bad that day). No wonder the films came out the way they did. However, when you put today’s top talent and a budget of millions on the case and still wind up with crap, well, what gives?

Still, I’m always willing to expand my horizons, so when Jabootu fan Robin Kalhorn posted a message board daring someone to review The Wizard of Mars, I picked up the gauntlet.

I must say it will be some time before I broaden my horizons or pick up any gauntlets again.

According to the IMDB, this one goes by a few names. This includes Alien Massacre, which is laughable since the only violence is committed against a rubber hose in one scene. Horrors of the Red Planet also doesn’t work, due to the fact that there’s nothing really horrific in the film. Unless you count the acting and special effects. Journey Into the Unknown is okay, I guess, but there’s very little worth knowing on Mars, apparently.

Nope, it looks like The Wizard of Mars is the best title. Because, believe it or not, the film is sort of, vaguely (very, very [very x10] vaguely), patterned after The Wizard of Oz. Although there is nothing in the credits of the movie itself, the IMDB actually throws a story credit to L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz novels. (I’m sure the IMDB could put a stop to those rattling windows, door slammings and dark apparitions haunting their offices if they’d just take that credit down and give Baum’s tormented spirit some peace.)

You can tell this movie is an old one because all the credits roll before the movie starts. “David L. Hewitt and Joe Karston present a Karston-Hewitt Organization Release” appears on the screen. Hewitt is the director, and as with many low budget flicks, Wizard of Mars proves itself a family affair. I couldn’t help but notice Script Supervisor Jean Hewitt and Location Manager John Hewitt in the credits too.

This movie marks an important Jabootu first–the appearance of John Carradine, whose inclusion on this site was only a matter of time. Carradine has had featured roles in several good movies (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, etc.). However, his résumé is mostly a gold mine of Jabootu fodder–Sex Kittens Go to College, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, Hillbillys in a Haunted House, Myra Breckenridge…and that’s just a small sample.

Carradine is the only ‘name’ actor in this movie. Therefore, he receives top billing, even though his role is very small and could easily have been filmed in…well, probably exactly the amount of screen time he received.

Carradine’s credit appears in big block letters. Thereafter, the four people we actually spend time with are listed. “Co-starring Roger Gentry, Vic McGee,” is followed by “And Jerry Rannow as Charlie, with Eve Bernhardt.” The best credit by far is “Electronoeffects by Frank A. Coe.” Apparently, someone actually wanted to take credit for them.

Another embarrassing credit: “Technical Adviser Forrest J. Ackerman.” Yep, the former Editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland and well-known author on the subject of horror/sci-fi/cult movies. Ackerman has appeared in many in-joke cameo roles in cult and b-flicks, but his two “technical advisor” credits (this and Dracula vs. Frankenstein) make you wonder just what kind of advice he was giving out. Perhaps they just weren’t listening.

Next we’re looking at a starfield, with that ‘space noise’ that’s so popular in bad sci-fi productions. You know, the ones that go like “Whowr wowr eee eeee.” The starfield itself looks like an impressionist painting of a starry night. Or a bad photocopy of one.

A ‘space ship’ is flying towards what looks like a Christmas tree in space. They only ever show the front and back of this thing. The back appears to be on fire. A jet of flame, perhaps meant to be the glow from the engines, is flickering merrily behind the ship, smoke and all.

Mars Probe 1 en route to the Christmas Tree nebula

Of course, it’s unnecessary to have a ship’s main engine roaring like this in space, because there’s nothing in space to slow it down. This ship can also be seen in Jabootu initiate Doomsday Machine as one of what, five dozen versions of the Astra 1. Wizard of Mars was made two years earlier, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they stole it from someone else in turn.

Next, a slow crawl down the aisle of the interior of the ship, and the control room. As with many B sci-fi sets, this one is laughable. It’s very easy to believe that somebody found the storage room of a TV station and set up there. The walls are too square for what appeared to be a conical ship. The walls and machinery look like sheets of drywall. Reel to reel machines are standing in as something high tech.

Now, reel to reel machines and such are common even in better sci-fi flicks. (Even good sci-fi tends not to age well–check out those 70s sideburns in Star Wars). Of course, good sci-fi has intriguing situations and characters, so bad props are background clutter, smirked at once and then forgotten.

This movie, on the other hand, has neither intriguing situations nor characters. So, from time to time we’ll get a lengthy close up of a lame piece of machinery, just to be sure we can’t forget it. The ship also has too many flashing lights–not unusual for this kind of movie, although it isn’t as overdone here as it could be. Lights cost money, and I cough cough harbor suspicions that this was a low budget production.

Time to meet our crew. There is the Captain of the ship, Steve. He has the hardest hair, so he’s the hero. There’s Doc, a pudgy balding guy (Doc…so like, what does he do in this ship?), Charlie, who looks like the co-pilot, and the guy who only made it into the wildest frat house on campus because his older brother called in every favor he could. Finally, Dorothy, she of the heavy eye make-up and good looks, who can’t act to save her life. In fact, if acting could save lives…let’s just say these four would leave behind a hefty body count.

This is pretty much your standard B sci-fi nuclear family. You’ve got the brave and dashing hero, the scientist figure to explain things, the attractive woman who stumbles into trouble, and the party’s joker for ‘comic relief.’ The Joker is also prominently featured in old war flicks. The advantage of those flicks over this one is that the company Joker usually gets killed for some cheap pathos. Sadly, this one survives.

Steve kicks off things by picking up a microphone and laying down some expository dialogue. Movies with military outfits have an advantage in that protocol often demands constant identification (his first lines are “This is Mars Probe 1…”), so expository dialogue is easier to conceal. Of course, when he identifies their ship as a “United States Space Exploration Craft,” you’d really hope that his superiors already know this. (Picture the NASA guys at Houston mission control asking each other “Gemini? Is that one of ours, or the Russians?”)

Further expository dialogue awkwardly explains that they are mapping the surface of Mars by orbiting the planet. This, despite the fact that no shot that we’ve seen so far indicates they’re orbiting anything. Rather, it looks like they’re pointlessly shooting through space burning fuel. Steve says they’ve just done the polar caps of Mars and are now going to swing in to a tighter orbit. I wonder why they need to. If you’re going to map Mars, why not go to the closest orbit safely available?

Increasingly obvious exposition reveals that as they go into a tighter orbit, they’re going to lose voice communication to “static interference.” So they’re going to switch over to visuals only. Well, that’s odd. Video signals are larger and more complicated, so when something begins to interfere with a signal, video is the first thing you lose. Audio is easier to send. What weird space disturbance is causing this?

Steve says they are going to execute the switch at 09:00. There is a shot of a clock (with hands yet, not digital!) that shows it is ten to nine. It also gives the date: January 1, 1975. Coincidentally, that’s also the year Doomsday Machine takes place. Immediately after he says this, though, he says that they will do the switch over in 2.14 minutes. Whereas Doomsday Machine was careless about its model shots, Wizard of Mars doesn’t give a flying fig about its time.

“Relay station Mars Echo One,” comes the reply. “We are standing by to receive your transmission.” Steve and the crew are then wished a Happy New Year. Ah, I see! This is the holiday season. Perhaps this explains that Christmas tree in space we saw earlier. We also get a look at Echo One on the monitor. It seems to be yet another of the many models that passed for the Astra 1 in Doomsday Machine.

Joker Charlie responds with a greeting of his own, and this brings smiles all around. At least on their side of the screen. (See IMMORTAL DIALOGUE. I seriously considered trying to capture this bit of audio and using it as a sound event for my PC.)

Whoa! High tech!Charlie admits to smoking marijuana on duty, but he didn't like it and he didn't inhale.

Another exterior shot of the Mars Probe shows it is still firing its rockets. Mars is nowhere in sight, even though they’re going into a ‘tighter orbit.’ This is pretty foolish. The shot indicates they’re going pretty fast. Since they can just use the gravity of Mars to orbit the planet naturally, this is an idiotic waste of fuel.

Inside, we “Standby for camera systems check run.” Charlie hits a few buttons on the left of his console, and then reports “Camera ‘scopes down.” At Doc and Dorothy’s stations, they pull down a pair of periscopes (despite Charlie saying they were already down). This bit reminded me that the submarine flick Crimson Tide was on TV last week. I thought that the charisma of Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington really made that picture…oh. Damn. Right, I have to review this movie.

Whoa! Futuristic!We have spotted a Japanese convoy with destroyer escort. Should we engage?
After just a second or two of looking into his periscope, Doc says “Wide angle, full scan camera systems all go.” Why they need a periscope for the cameras instead of an ordinary monitor is beyond me.

At this point, it’s pretty clear that the filmmakers can’t do much with this turkey, even by low-budget sci-fi standards. Here’s the English language version of what they’re about to do “They turn on some cameras.” However, they’ve got some time to kill before this movie is over, so they’re going to have to make turning on the cameras a wee bit more complicated. They’ll spend the next few minutes firing technobabble at each other, doing vague, nonsensical things to their control panels…all to run up the clock.

The acting (which would have the cast of Mrs. Thompson’s Grade 2 class production of “Littering Isn’t Cool!” saying things like “No, too labored! You have to let yourself go with the role!”) is so bad it too adds to the length. If you eliminated the awkward pauses between their lines alone, you could probably cut ten minutes out of the movie.

“Be sure to correlate your cameras, Dorothy,” advises Doc. “We don’t want any overlap.” Yes, Heaven forbid we get any overlap. That would just ruin everything. Though Dorothy has apparently done nothing but stare through the periscope, she says “Correlations complete and corrected.” Perhaps she’s controlling her panel telepathically (Freudian slip time: the first time I wrote this, I accidentally spelled the word “telepathetically”).

We get a look at some kind of display, apparently through her periscope. It’s a grid with an X through it, with a blue planet at the centre. Yep, it’s the same display that was used in Doomsday Machine. The one with compass points around it. Which, as Ken pointed out, would not be overly helpful navigating in space. And what planet is this supposed to be anyway? They don’t call Mars “The Red Planet” due to its predilection to Marxist/Leninist philosophy.

Mars...We think.

Someone says “Stand by to switch over all recorder instrumentation.” Suddenly, Mars appears on the scope…well, not really. What appears on the scope is a drawing of Mars that looks like it might be from the cover of an early copy of Amazing Stories. It isn’t held in the graph too steadily, either. I guess their ship isn’t very steadily on course, or perhaps Mars is experiencing some weird (and severe) orbital problems.

Notice also in this scene the weird protocol. Somebody says “Stand by to switch over…” blah, blah and then blink, it happens. This is not how it’s supposed to work. When someone gives the instruction to “Stand by,” it basically means “be ready to do what you have to do because this is going to happen soon.” After the order to stand by, two more things should happen. Someone should say “Switch over in five, four, three…” (or whatever). And then, once the action actually has occurred, someone should indicate that it has taken place. These guys frequently skip this kind of procedure, which is used in all sorts of teamwork environments, from military operations to television stations.

Some more weird navigational babble–“Stand by, we are entering pre-orbital trajectory.” What? This seems to indicate that they are not in orbit. When did they leave it? On the monitor, the cover of Amazing Stories gets closer. Presumably, if their calculations are off, they’ll be thrown off course towards the True Detective constellation.

Charlie, looking at his console, says “Experiencing small pitch. Stabilizer retros correcting.” “Pitch” is a term used with modern aircraft defined as “the plunging movement of a vessel lengthwise.” Ol’ Chuck seems to be indicating their craft is either pointing too high or too low to follow their course. And actually, as far as I understand, “Pitch” and its companion term “Yaw” are something that are always occurring to a vessel in flight. It would be like standing any place on the globe and declaring “I’m experiencing longitude.” The correct procedure is to “adjust the trim” so the vessel is on course.

Charlie pushes two buttons on the left of his console, and it looks as though they may be the same buttons he pushed earlier to bring the camera’s scopes down. Those are versatile controls. Or perhaps he’s hitting Shift or Alt with his other hand.

Outside, a small flame appears on the left side of the rocket. I think this is meant to show a rocket firing to correct their course. If the ship is indeed pointing too far up or down in relation to its course, this would fire it to the right, which would put them even more off course. Also, as with previous shots the “fire” from the engines is burning upright like a normal flame. As if this were a normal, oxygen-filled environment. Let me tell you, it just shatters the illusion of an otherwise flawless effects sequence. (Yes, my fingers are crossed behind my back.)

“We’re directed. Activate the camera systems,” says Steve. Uhm, just how many times have we turned these cameras on? Earlier they were peering through camera scopes, then they “switched over” and now they’re “activating” them. You know, I don’t want to jump the gun here, but I think our scriptwriters might be, like, making stuff up as they go along.

Doc and Dottie pull down scopes again. “Picking up some sort of pulsating light,” says Doc. Doc, you’ve got to stop talking in these 25 dollar science words. Us non-experts can’t keep up.

We get an exterior shot that shows an enormous red ball of light travelling by. It looks a little like a clown nose. It appears to be right on top of them too. How in the world did they miss this with all the cameras they apparently have? And why can’t we see Mars if they’re orbiting it? Borrowed effects from another movie that don’t quite match the action, perhaps?

Whatever this thing is, it’s bad. “Watch out, there’s another one ahead!” says Dorothy. In addition to being telepathetic…I mean, telepathic, she apparently can speak using her mind, too, or is at least a good ventriloquist, because I can’t see her jaw move to indicate speech (most of her face is obscured by the scope, but I’m pretty sure the line is dubbed).

We get a few further shots of apparently more red balls passing by. Despite Dottie’s warning, nobody seems to be doing much in the way of evasive action. The balls and ship appear to be exactly on the same course as before. In fact, the balls even look the same (I wonder how this could be? Perhaps a little footage recycling?).

Dorothy bravely takes action by…brace yourself…twisting a knob on the periscope. But it’s no use (her actions, and the movie). Red light begins to flash in their faces. Since we’ve seen no windows, I’m not sure how it’s getting in.

Some more unconvincing technobabble follows (this stuff really makes Star Trek sound like Stephen Hawking). Some kind of orange space lightning is striking their ship. Steve sounds the “Collision Alarm,” and then asks for “Emergency Procedures.” Apparently, emergency procedures are to continue to do things as before, except Doc gets up and looks at Dorothy’s console. I was hoping for “alarm sounds and lighting is dramatically but uselessly lowered” technique of Star Trek Voyager.

Doc says “Scanner shows we’re…” (long pause) “…approaching something of monstrous size.” It’s probably a plot hole. Next we get this strange graphic which looks a little like a triangle orbiting a planet with that weird orange lightning.

Editorial Note – I should note that the cited Red Balls and some of the Lightning shots on view here also made appearances in, that’s right, Doomsday Machine. – Ken

Mars Probe 1 is attacked by a giant Killer Klown from Outer SpaceEven in Kindergarten, boy genius George Lucas was drawing storyboards for the Star Wars Trilogy

Now it’s time for Jabootu’s Funtime Activity Korner!â„¢ Kids at home, you can recreate this exciting scene from WOM! Just drop one of the Star Wars movies into your VCR. Fast-forward to any scene with a Star Destroyer and a planet visible in the same shot. Pause it. Then play with your Contrast and Brightness until the screen is completely washed out. Finally, spray the screen with orange spray string for that ‘lightning’ effect. Congratulations! You’re a special effects wizard (although admittedly the budget to do what I just described is probably higher than what they had to work with here).

And now, back to our show. Charlie says that whatever this is “keeps changing its size, and range.” It sounds to me that if he can determine this, the sensors should have been sophisticated enough to detect this thing earlier. Charlie notes that “The distance varies from extreme range to zero,” and complains that he can’t get hold a correct reading, all with the stark, dramatic tension of Ward and Beaver Cleaver having a heart to heart talk.

Meanwhile, Dorothy complains “These meters are having convulsions. Nothing I do will correct it!” as though she’s having problems getting her whites really white. Well, Dorothy, have you tried new Advanced Formula Tide to get those meters corrected?

Somehow Doc determines that “It’s some sort of magnetic interference,” and Steve says it’s a magnetic storm, which is why they can’t see it on the monitor. Well, we keep seeing something on the monitors. What the hell are these devices supposed to be indicating? They’re showing something.

“We’re in trouble,” says Doc. “Our range is closing fast,” says Stevie Wonder. “Better get back to your seat, Doc, and hang on!” he says with all the stark, dramatic tension and acting poise of a Sunday morning public access kiddie show.

At some point they indicate they’re being pulled out of orbit. Since in a moment they are going to crash on Mars (hope I didn’t spoil anything there), this is another weird observation. If you’re being pulled out of orbit, you’re either being pulled into the atmosphere, or back into space. Since entering Mars’ atmosphere unplanned (or any planet’s atmosphere unplanned) would be real bad news, you’d think that they’d say “We’re being pulled into the atmosphere!”

Something begins sparking in the corner. Doc gets up and grabs a fire extinguisher. He begins spraying it, occasionally even getting close to the source of the sparks. Let’s just keep the firearms out of Doc’s hands, okay?

Cut back to Charlie, who’s fulfilling his role of Movie Quipster. “We had to go to Mars!” he gripes. “We couldn’t go to the moon like everybody else!” Fine, Mother Chucker. We’ll send you into a tight orbit around the sun next time.

Yet more technical babble is exchanged, intercut with bad effect shots. They now seem to be circling an orange blob at a speed more representative of orbiting. There’s also a big flashing thing, which might be meant to be a star, or whatever thingee is dragging them down.

Dorothy calls for help but only says “Mayday, this is Mars Probe One.” Dorothy, you might want to explain why you want help.

Time for the “We’ve got just one chance” scene. This one is to “jettison the main stage.” Stages in our world refer to rocket boosters, which usually are used to get a ship into orbit, and are then jettisoned as they are used up. What it means here I have no idea, nor do I have any idea why this might help. Doc is told by Steve “you’d better track it in case we have to follow it down.” Huh? Apparently, they do jettison the main stage, which is represented with what looks like a cigarette ember disappearing in darkness.

Steve cries “It’s no use…” Without pausing the movie, I got up, went to the washroom, washed my hands, went over to the kitchen to get a Coke, stopped to pat one of my three cats, and then sat down again. “…we’re going down!” finishes Steve. Okay, that was an exaggeration.

I only have two cats.

“Our pressure suits…quick!” says Steve in a frozen manner that makes you long for the natural cadence of the voices of William Shatner and Adam West. “Our hull may rupture on impact!” Yeah, I suppose that’s a distinct possibility, isn’t it?

The ship’s “gyros” are suddenly gone, and it’s announced “We’re rolling over.” There’s a shot of a monitor playing stock footage that looks like it was taken from a camera inside a jet during an airshow. They awkwardly disappear through a hatch while we get more airshow footage with occasional static interruption.

None of this stock footage looks anything like the photos of the surface of Mars that I’ve seen. Not a single frame shows anything even vaguely red. I might also note that the cameras indicate the ship is rolling. Since the interior has gravity, they should be tossed around like clothes in a dryer, bet the set remains absolutely still. Eventually, we get just static, which I guess is meant to indicate that the ship has crashed.

Now we cut to a painting, which I guess is meant to be where they crashed. That big flashing thing is shining down on orange sky with a rocky white mountainous terrain below. It looks like a rejected Yes album cover.

The members of Yes didn't like the initial design for the cover of the album "Drama"

Next, they’re just standing around in the ship, wearing their space suits. The suits are a light metallic blue with gold helmets, and make them look a lot like the blue Intel guy. You know, the ones that dance to the super hit sounds of the 70s? Charlie enters the room and says “There’s a little power left in the batteries, I’ve got them on recharge now.” We have no idea what these batteries are providing power for, not now, not ever.

Dorothy says “The transmitter works. We could send a call for help.” Sounds good to me. Should we call a script doctor, or Industrial Light and Magic first? Oh, calling for someone to help them off the planet should probably be in there somewhere, too.

Steve must like it here or something, because he doesn’t put a lot of interest in the idea. “Remember we blew transmission with Echo One before we went into a tighter orbit.” There’s weird editing here, which appears to make Steve jump around the ship as he speaks. “That’s right. We have no way of knowing if our last mayday call was even received,” says Doc.

He and Steve confer, and they determine that it’s unlikely the signal was heard. Dorothy asks “What’s to stop us from trying a mayday call now?” Although she can’t act, some of the most logical dialogue comes from Dorothy, at least at this stage in the game. If you get stranded somewhere, signaling for help usually ranks high on your list of priorities. Then again, I’m not a highly trained astronaut like these guys.

“Nothing, technically,” says Charlie, in response to her question. Well, then, why are they even discussing it? Half a loaf is not the same as no bread. A signal that isn’t likely to get through is still better than no signal at all. “We can give our exact position, and wait until help comes,” reasons Dottie, soundly. “If it comes,” comes the dark reply. Astonishingly, she asks “What do you mean ‘if’?” I guess we had too much intelligence from a single character, so we had to throw that in to balance it out.

It’s repeated that they “blew transmission.” Now, Charlie offers up a weird plan. It is in fact the plan that they will go with. Prior to this, they apparently had no alternatives to Dorothy’s idea, but weren’t going to work with it anyway. I guess they’re just too lazy to live.

Charlie’s plan is a “one shot deal.” They wait until the batteries recharge, try the radio, or take their chances outside. Dorothy objects, but Charlie likes it better than “sitting here not knowing if help is coming.” Good thinking, Chucky. You’ve just completed a mapping survey of the planet, which presumably would reveal any settlements on the surface. Since you apparently found nothing, a more rational plan than signaling for help would be to wander outside in the hopes of finding an alien civilization.

They ask Doc his opinion. “Before we make any rash decisions, I think we should evaluate where we are and what we’re going to do,” says Doc. Steve smacks him across the bald plate and says “Pay attention, Doc! What do you think we’re trying to do now, determine Bridge partners?” Okay, he doesn’t do that. But it’s what I would have done.

Their plan to leave the ship is very unclear, making it seem even dumber compared to Dottie’s suggestion. Apparently they want to go looking for the main stage, but don’t explain why. More oxygen, perhaps? Does the main stage have the ability to leave orbit? What new advantage will they gain if they find it?

Doc consults their map, and says they at least have that going for them, and a good idea where the main stage crashed. Dorothy says “There’s enough fortified liquid in our nutrient reserves to last two, maybe three weeks if we stretch it out.” Oxygen is a bit of a problem, though, as they only have 90 hours left. Dorothy says “Ninety hours, that’s less than four days!” Told you she was the smart one.

“Well, Doc, think we could make it?” asks Charlie. There’s a series of stilted reaction shots. Doc says that it will take three weeks “by raft to the desert region.” Ah, yes, they remembered the “Canals of Mars.” I was ready to put something snotty about misinterpreting the word “canali” as used by G.V. Schiaparelli, but Tom Burnam’s Dictionary of Misinformation set me straight (I highly recommend this book for students of obscure information).

Dorothy mentions that piffling oxygen concern. Sheesh, women, huh? Always fussing over the little details. Charlie says “After spending nine months on this ship I’d be willing to step outside and crack the intake valve on my helmet just to feel solid ground under my feet regardless of the consequences.”

Now that’s a funny observation. Not funny “har har” but funny “peculiar.” You can always feel solid ground beneath you, even if you are sealed inside a space suit. Second, you don’t walk on your helmet, so I don’t see how cracking “the intake valve” would help. If Charlie has a death wish, fine by me. But since he does, perhaps his suggestions should be carefully reviewed before the others act on them. Like, stepping outside for example.

Charlie’s ‘joke,’ though, has inspired Steve. “That’s it! We’ll crack the intake valves on our helmets!” “Oh yeah, and drop dead!” replies Charlie, and if cracking the intake valve means opening the interior of the suit up to the Martian atmosphere, he speaks quite accurately. “No, I’m serious!” cries Steve, and lets us in on his insane line of thinking. “The Martian atmosphere contains oxygen. It’s too thin to sustain life, but it’s still oxygen, right?” “Basically, yes,” confirms Doc.

Incidentally, I don’t know if the Martian atmosphere actually contains traces of oxygen, but I say it doesn’t matter. In my mind, a movie can deliberately and consciously chose to ignore even the laws of science for the sake of a story, as long as they do so with internal consistency. Or, if at the time of the movie’s release the kind of information they speculate on just wasn’t known, that’s fine too. It’s when the knowledge is available, but they lazily side-step it with unconvincing and obviously incorrect technobabble that they earn a smack.

“All right,” says Steve. “Say we keep our suit pressure below the atmospheric pressure on Mars.” Well, this would probably do nothing more than push the suit closer to their bodies. But the next line is a killer (literally and figuratively). “Then we crack the valve and allow the Martian atmosphere to seep into our suits. Supplementing it with oxygen from our own suit tanks!”

“An oxygen booster!” cries Doc. Doc, what exactly are you Doctor of? I want to see your scientific credentials. Right now.

“Exactly,” says Steve. Exactly. Exactly what will happen is that when they open their suits up to the Martian atmosphere, the interior of the suit and the atmosphere of Mars will equalize. There’s much more of Mars atmosphere than there is interior of suit, so what’s going to happen is that suits will be full of Martian atmosphere. Then their lungs will be full of Martian atmosphere. And as Charlie said, they drop dead. Maybe they share the same attitude as Lister’s Confidence from the “Confidence and Paranoia” episode of Red Dwarf: “Oxygen’s for losers!”

“Will it work?” asks Dorothy. “Work” as in “kill us almost instantly”? Sure it’ll work, sweetie.

“Sure it’ll work!” says Charlie cheerfully. “No reason why it shouldn’t!” Other than common sense, you mean? But Charlie has momentary doubts. “Is there?” he says timidly, playing for laughs. Yep, nothing like the ol’ comedy relief to make a stressful situation even worse.

“Looks like we’re in for a little unofficial exploration,” Steve jokes.

Suddenly, a cloud of smoke kicks up near the door. “”Never mind that official business,” cries Charlie “let’s get out of here before she explode!” I’m not sure how he can tell that some smoke near the door will cause the ship to explode. Perhaps Doc exhausted their fire extinguisher dealing with those sparks, so now they can’t put out any more fires.

[Editorial Question: Since they’re leaving the ship anyway, rather than rush to beat the explosion, why not vent what oxygen is left in the vessel and put out the fire that way? – Konfused Ken]

“Grab what you can, hurry!” orders Steve. They scurry to grab some things (including two rubber rafts!). Someone presses a panel, and we see a shot of a very unsturdy door opening. Back inside the ship, a tiny jet of flame appears in the doorway. Dorothy asks what they’re going to do now. Well, Dorothy, you could step over the fire. We’re not talking raging inferno here. We’re talking about something adequate for lighting a cigarette. “Close your face plate and activate your oxygen supply!” orders Stevie. Good thing he did this. They would have walked off into Mars atmosphere without it otherwise.

In case you’re wondering, we do not see an exciting shot of them leaping over the flame. In fact, that shot of the door opening is the only time we’ll see the ship on Mars. And we quite definitely don’t see the ship crashing or exploding. Instead, we get a shot of that Yes album cover with that big glowing thing, and some narration from Steve.

“To the north of our wreckage, we can see the endless ice fields of Martian polar cap. South of us, lost somewhere in the vastness of this alien world, the main stage, and our only hope of survival.” Now cut to a shot of them walking along the banks of a river, with snow covering the banks. At first I was glad to see them doing some extended walking, because the acting is so stiff in this movie that I was afraid they might not be able too. But make no mistake, they can walk. We will see A LOT of walking.

Herr Doktor is asked if they should stick to the banks. For the first time, Doc offers some useful advice. The Doc says that even though they haven’t seen any signs of life, they should stay away from the bank, at least at night. Although it isn’t explained why here, Doc is making sense. If Earth is any indication, animals will likely use the stream as a source of nourishment. That could mean predators in the vicinity.

One tiny detail, though. While Doc is babbling about seeing “no signs of life,” the party is clearly walking by a small shrub, and grass is poking out through the snow.

Next, they ask him how far it is to the main stage. He says that the canal will take them to the hills, then they have to go on foot to the desert area. The stage should be “near there.” And how long will this take? Doc says they should “reach the hills by evening.” I guess the Doc was right when he said that three weeks should be more than enough time. I thought he said earlier that it was three weeks by canal to get to the foothills? How much time has elapsed here? There were no transitions indicating this kind of passage.

Next, a shot of them on the water, in the rafts (I’ll bet these four performers felt like complete prats, sitting in rubber rafts in space suits, praying nobody else would see them). Cap is securing the two rafts together with some rope. “This should keep us from drifting apart during the night.” Charlie says “We’d better be going then. We don’t know how much daylight we’ve got left.” How come? They’ve orbited the planet! Don’t they know the day and night cycle of Mars?

Once again Doc is asked how long their journey will take, reminiscent of children in the back seat endlessly chirping “Are we there yet?” They estimate a four day trip, which apparently is cutting their oxygen supply close. So how long have they supposed to have been out here? Earlier they established they only have oxygen for 90 hours, and it would be a three week trip on the stream. Suddenly they have four days to go, which will cut their oxygen supply close? What’s going on?

This doesn’t worry Steve. “We shouldn’t require as much oxygen now that we’re not exerting ourselves.” I guess Steve has never tried oaring before. He also proposes cutting down their oxygen mixture while they’re asleep. I suppose this is possible and would work if things got desperate.

Although just a second ago Charlie said that they should be going, apparently they’re going to sleep here. Wow, what a great idea! Four people sleeping on two tiny rafts, in the middle of a river on an alien world. They say the current will keep them in midstream, too. Uh, guys? If there’s current, you’re going to go somewhere unless you’re anchored. The only moderately sane thing they do is post a watch. Chucky, who’s carrying a rifle from the ship, will take first shift.

A little later, we see them all asleep in the raft, including Charlie. They are “sleeping” in positions that nobody could fall asleep in. One of them is sitting bolt upright, another is on his side, head straight, but leaning out over the raft. On second thought, maybe the performers’ natural stiffness allowed them comfortably fall asleep in these positions. Forget I said anything.

Narrator Steve says “The cold mists of the Martian night bring an end to our first day on this desolate world.” Their first day, huh? Okay, I’m just going to say the timing of this movie is totally screwed and leave it at that. The narration also states that Charlie has picked up a signal, which they think may be the main stage. I guess he did this in his sleep. Wow, what amazing skill from someone who fell asleep on guard duty.

“I cannot escape the feeling of being watched by some unseen intelligence and that perhaps our final destination will not be of our own choosing.” Steve, it’s just your imagination. Any Intelligence watching you flipped the channel a half hour ago. Now that I think about it, what am I doing here?

The raft is drifting anyway, and winds up snagged on what appear to be three long, tubular pieces of vegetation. In actual fact, these are alien creatures! They seem to have escaped from the Lawns and Gardens section of your local hardware superstore. They look like long hoses with two rubber leaves on either side of their “mouths.” As the raft approaches them, we can see it bump into one and push it out of the way.

The hoses are rather limply pushed towards the raft to simulate them attacking. One of them flops on Charlie’s chest. He wakes up and tosses it off as though it were made of nothing more than well, err…light rubber. The foursome awaken and begin to defend themselves from this rather lackluster assault. Charlie starts shooting while the others poke them gingerly with oars. He fires off about two dozens shots here without reloading. And since there are just three of these hoses, why aren’t they dead pretty fast? Is Chucky as handy with a rifle as Doc is with a fire extinguisher? Perhaps, as somebody cautions him “Easy, Charlie, don’t hit the rafts.”

Two military life rafts provide comfortable room for four.Attack of the Killer Hose!

But don’t panic (as if), the rafts drift away. Says Narrator Steve “The mists, they condense and shield us from the danger we have just escaped.” Yep, lucky for them the effects crew cranked up the smoke machine. “But now, what new danger hides from us in the fog?”

Cut to a cave. By now you will have noticed that they are no transition shots (i.e., water leading up to a cave mouth). Our filmmakers have nothing to link settings, so they just shelve one and introduce another. And then they get the narrator to take it from there.

“For the water now swirls around us and somewhere ahead we can hear it beating against walls of stone.” Now our kids are sitting in the rafts, surrounded by stalagmites and stalactites. For no discernable reason, Dottie cries, “Steve, watch out!” Nobody reacts, not the crew, not the audience (any teens watching this at a drive-in would surely have abandoned this flick for some necking by now).

Apparently the rocks are as “sharp as razors.” Steve still doesn’t react, even though the rafts are very close to them. Instead, he decides to try the “oxygen booster” they discussed earlier. Now remember, they said that in order to do this, they would lower their suit pressure, then crack “the intake valve” on their suits. So…Steve lifts the faceplate of his suit, exposing the suit interior to Mars atmosphere. Wow, you can lower pressure in the suit and crack the intake valve just like that, huh?

“Seems to work okay,” comments Steve. Soon the whole party has lifted their faceplates. And in case you were wondering, it isn’t fatal. Sadly, the show must go on.

A while later, they’re sitting in a small pond in a cave. After a long shot of them just sitting there, Dorothy remarks “A cavern!” WHAT? REALLY? WHERE?

They say they must have entered it in the fog. Uh, didn’t they notice the stalagmites and stalactites? Where did they think these came from? Steve says “I sure hope it leads in the right direction when we come to the surface again.” Uh, you don’t have any guarantee that it will come back to the surface. For all they know the stream splits into tiny underground channels, or will pitch them over a falls further down the planet’s crust, drowning them. And since they have no idea what the stream holds, the smart thing to do would be to turn around and back out.

Looking at the cavern walls, which look like pulped and dried brains, Dottie says “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.” Dorothy really needs to get out more.

Captain Steve says there doesn’t seem to be a way out, so they’ll just “have to ride it out.” Steve’s a regular Magellan here. In this cave, there is a rather obvious trail for them to follow. It’s called the bloody stream that carried them in. Just go counter to the current, and they’re out again.

Fade out and then fade in again, where they’re sitting in what appears to be the exact same spot. Steve says “We’ve been in here five hours now, and no sign of a way out.” Lord. If in 1492 Steve had been in charge of Santa Maria, he probably would have rammed the Nina and sank them both in the harbor. Think perhaps getting up and looking for an exit might be an idea?

Doc speculates that they’re going further down, which would explain the heat. The light is coming from natural luminescence. This provokes some “after everything we’ve seen so far I’ll believe anything” comments. For some reason, they don’t think that being attacked by an alien life form is remarkable (they don’t even stop to duff up Charlie for falling asleep on guard duty), but phenomena that can be observed on Earth is.

Next, a shot of our Captain “rowing.” Charlie says there’s steam in the air. Steve says “That sound, that’s trouble ahead or something worse.” Worse than trouble? Gosh, I hope it’s not the overlap Doc warned us about in the ship! “I’m convinced there are falls ahead,” says Steve, with atrociously stilted delivery.

Next we see a shot of the walls. They looks like melted red wax. Hurrah! Looks like somebody remembered Mars is called “The Red Planet” for a reason!” This is the first time we’ve seen this colour on the surface of the planet.

They wonder what to do next. Now for some reason, they determine that the raft is about to explode. So they begin to fiddle with the air valves (it looks as though this may be a blow up raft! How did they inflate them with their mouths in the Martian atmosphere?”) After releasing some air, they say “We’ll keep them from blowing up this way, but the seams will give pretty soon.” I guess the heat is causing the gas inside the raft to expand.

Finally, Steve spots what looks like a tunnel. Once on shore, Charlie tries to collect the rafts. “Don’t bother with that, let ’em go,” says Steve. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. They wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway,” says Charlie, and incredibly, they abandon the rafts. Look, even if the rafts are on their last legs, they could still come in handy. What if they need to build shelter, for example?

Now a shot of them wandering through the caverns. We see a slow pan down of a cavern wall. Somebody asks “Wonder how far in this goes?”

One Mississippi Two Mississippi Three Mississippi Four Mississippi-

“I don’t know,” answers Steve, apparently heavily medicated, “but we’ll soon find out.”

Doc notices some rock, and pauses to examine it. Charlie asks him what’s up, and he says “there’s something familiar about it but I can’t place it.” Doc, how could you forget? Let me give you a few reminders–shore leave in Fiji, a moonlit night, a pitcher of margaritas….

“Ah, come on, rock’s rock! Let’s get a move on,” dismisses Charlie. This is similar to an actual incident in the US space program. When Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon and looked around and saw nothing but rock and dirt, he said “What a bloody waste of time and billions of taxpayers’ dollars!” Then he got back in the LEM, and took off.

Further Editorial Butt-in-ski-ing: So, Jason. Armstrong called it a ‘bloody’ waste of time, did he? Hmm. Hey, once back on Earth, did he toss his gear in the boot of his lorry, replenish his petrol supply, and end up taking the lift to his flat? That would have certainly shown those Jerrys what for, eh? Oops! Blimey, Coronation Street’s on the telly! Ta ta! – Ken.

More wandering about, looking at rock. In fact, it may well be the same cavern shot from another angle. We quite definitely get another look at the rock face we panned down earlier, this time panning up. I should also mention for the sake of space and my own sanity, that the rest of this movie has many shots of them just walking. Through caves, through desert, through a quarry, walkwalkwalkwalk.

They only stop for some lame dialogue or some not particularly dangerous danger, in a hopelessly obvious effort to stretch the running time of the movie. So instead of writing “They walk past some rocks. Then they walk past some more rocks, followed by a shot of them walking by some rocks. Finally, just to add a little variety, they walk past some rocks over and over again,” I’m going to ask that you imagine every scene I describe padded by lots of loooooong shots of them walking, and pausing for about five minutes between every line (even the ones where someone has asked another a simple question). That will give a pretty good idea of what this movie is like. I’ll draw attention to any special exceptions.


Narrator Steve: “We have wandered in these caves for what now seems to be days.” You’re telling me! Cap’n speculates that they are wandering in circles (which I suppose justifies the repeated use of the set). He also continues to feel as though they’re being watched.

After some more wandering (see above note), Dottie asks if they’ve been doubling back. “I don’t know,” says Steve, sounding as though he’s merely curious. “It sure sounds like it.” Sounds? He’s using echo location to get around the caves?

“Well, I hope not, that would mean we’re really stuck,” says Charlie. Thanks, Charlie. Now run along. Why, by the way, don’t they mark their trail somehow? Scratch the walls, or the cave floor. If they’d kept the rafts, they could cut them up and leave pieces of rubber.

Finally, Doc points out something off camera. “It must lead outside,” says Dorothy. They run towards it. Unfortunately it doesn’t lead to the outside, but some stock footage of some lava. After staring at it for a moment (again, see padding disclaimer above), Doc comments “A volcanic cavern!” Gosh, thanks Doctor. We all thought it was red Kool Aid. Good thing you warned them before they tried to drink it!

“I should have known that we’d find this,” says Doc. “How could any of use know what we’d find here?” asks Steve. You mean, beyond common sense? Is planet Earth the only one in the galaxy with magma?

“That rock formation that was puzzling me? It was volcanic,” says Doc. “Any amateur rock hound would have recognized [slight pause]…it.” Actually, Doc, I believe any amateur rock hound would probably prefer the term “igneous” for the rock, and “ignoramus” for you.

“Isn’t there any place on this planet that isn’t a deathtrap?” asks Dorothy. Never mind ‘deathtrap,’ I’d settle for ‘mildly interesting.’

Charlie asks where they go from here. Steve gives one of several variations on “We’ve come this far, we might as well keep going,” a line repeated throughout the movie. I guess the filmmakers feel this is enough justification for the audience to stick around too. Guess again, fellas.

So our party flattens itself against the cavern wall and walks slowly down the path, even though it’s plainly obvious that the path is wide enough to walk down normally. We are actually shown them in the same shot with a special effect, which is a “lava falls,” the closest thing we get to a believable special effect.

Watch out for the ledge!

Now, here’s another funny thing about this movie. If you’ve seen any of these B flicks before, you can recognize stereotypical characters, and predict exactly what happens to them. For example, the beautiful girl must be isolated and then attacked by a rubber monster. Instead of defending herself or running, she will freeze and scream, and then the dashing hero will arrive to beat up rubber monster.

In this scene, we were predicting that Dorothy would slip, and then Steve would haul her to safety after she dangles screaming a bit. This didn’t happen. Before you applaud the movie for breaking a stereotype, let me finish. When it became apparent that Dottie wasn’t going to fall, we predicted Charlie would. The others haul him up, and then he would make a lame quip about turning into a french fry. This too, did not happen.

That’s because nothing happens. Nothing much really occurs on this adventure. They do a lot of walking, look at a few odd things, and even the problems they encounter are easily resolved, or solve themselves. There’s about as much danger and tension as a trip to the zoo. Okay, so technically a set of bars or two is all that’s protecting you from an extremely dangerous Komodo dragon or whatever, but your safety isn’t seriously threatened as long as you don’t do anything obviously idiotic. In WOM, it’s clear that there’s no danger here unless Charlie takes a swan dive into the lava, which tragically, he doesn’t. When this become obvious, you’ll be begging for some guy in a rubber suit to menace to Dorothy. You’ll ask for every cliché in the book. At least then something would be happening.

Regarding their current situation, Charlie says “Straight from the frying pan, into the fire.” He rolls his eyes. I’m going to be generous here and assume that the actor’s eye rolling wasn’t scripted, but was the actor’s real reaction to this awful line.

We spend some more time watching the stock footage, until, finally, Steve points to something offscreen. “Does that look like a cave to you?” Gosh, I dunno Steve. If they’d show a freakin’ shot of it I might be able to tell you. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have the budget for a cave mouth.

Since they can’t back up because the caves “lead nowhere” (just like this movie), Steve is going to go ahead and look at the suspected cave to see how far back it goes. He moves to go, but then stops. Then the actor playing Charlie says “I’ll go,” but Steve brushes him off. “I’ll go, I am responsible.” You’re responsible for this film? Let’s get ’em!


Steve is next seen walking down some rock towards the fire. Cut back to shot of the other three, apparently looking on, worried (would pregnant women and the elderly leave the room please?). “Do you suppose something’s happened to him?” asks Doc. “There he is!” shouts Dorothy. “He’s all right!” Mind, you we aren’t shown any of this. Charlie even says “He’s waving at us to come! Let’s go!” because apparently they couldn’t afford a shot of a guy waving.


More walking. At one point, Steve comments, “I almost wish this weren’t the right direction.” Huh? Finally they spot an exit, and climb outside.

At this point, there’s about four minutes where the audio on the tape I was using was completely distorted, making it impossible to determine exactly what was going on. Somehow I think this did nothing one way or another to the over-all quality of the movie. If I had to make a guess as to what happens during this time, I’d say not much. There’s some shots of a rock quarry, some fire, and more of Steve’s narration, which I can’t make out. One snippet I caught seems to indicate that they lost their map. (When? How?) Our heroes finally enter the desert they’ve been talking about, and come to rest on a sand dune.

Editorial If-I-interrupt-one-more-time-Jason-will-kill-me Note: Since my copy of the tape doesn’t have audio problems, let me fill in {although Jason’s right about it not mattering much}. They walk through the flaming cavern, looking for an exit out onto the surface of the planet. Mars, by the way, apparently has lots and lots of oxygen, since it boasts water-filled canals and giant pillars of flame shooting up all over the place. The real reason I interrupted here was that I’m sure Jason would have wanted to share the following line:

Steve, looking about the rocky cave: “May as well go as far as we can. No where else to stay on solid ground.”

Yes, especially if you were to go straight up into the air. Anyway, they soon find an exit and make their way topside, hurrying, we are told, because “The volcano might erupt!” Sure enough, a big roman candle is seen shooting up sparks, presumably to represent this event.

This is followed by a bit of horrifically discordant music, sounding much like a cat torturing a harp. It made me wish that my copy of the movie had audio problems too. Jason, you lucky bastard! Steve’s narration notes that they now believe it to be the morning of the forth day, then oddly continues on to the effect that “how long we have been wandering there, we can only guess.” Their watches, you see, “have refused to run since we crashed on the surface of planet, their hands frozen, as if time were forbidden on this world.” Time, apparently, being on the same list as ‘logic’ and ‘interest.’

Mars’ surface, by the way, is blue – it turns out that it’s the red sky of Mars that makes it seem red to us. Well, that solves that mystery. And, yep, they’ve lost their map, which goes unexplained, and, we are told, must find the main stage before nightfall, or they’ll be out of oxygen. And now back to our regularly scheduled reviewer, as Doc notes that they have a mere fifteen minutes of oxygen left {their faceplates, by the way, are still open}, leading to… – Ken

As the audio kicks back in, Doc sound like he’s doing a “I can’t go on” moment, but there’s an obvious beeping noise from Charlie’s belt. Nobody notices this until Doc points it out. They figure that it’s the main stage, and head off. However, once they clear a hill, we get one of those Star Trek style stings that indicate Kirk’s met someone who want to enslave the human race.

“Oh, no,” says Dorothy. It seems they’ve found a giant metal Christmas tree. Narration kicks in. “What we had thought to be the main stage has turned out to be a time-corroded relic from an earlier chapter of the exploration of Mars. Just enough power in its batteries to transmit a useless signal.” They gather around it. It seems to be labeled “USAF Bio Lab”

Charlie starts laughing. (I’ll bet the actor didn’t work up to this moment by recalling some of Charlie’s witticisms from this movie.) The strain is too much on poor Charlie, and he’s beginning to crack. Cut away to a shot of Steve and Dorothy reacting and, weirdly, they seem to be smiling too.

“Charlie, stop it!” cries Doc. Doc, you should have said that before the party favor impersonation he did at the start of the movie. “Ironically funny, don’t you see?” chortles Charlie. “An unmanned biological laboratory to tell us whether or not we could survive the elements. That’s what’s so funny. We have to travel millions of miles to find it, just to prove we can’t survive.” Captain Steve, the leader of this mission immediately jumps into action at the sight of one of his crew breaking down by standing perfectly still and watching him without comment.

“And it can’t even send a message back for us!” laughs Charlie bitterly. Well, I don’t see why a piece of old technology can’t be modified to signal for help. Can’t they do something with it to call for attention?

Charlie takes the rifle and shoots the probe a few times. By wasting bullets and firing under stress, he’s putting them at severe risk, but nobody does anything. He collapses whimpering, looking a spoiled child. He even says “It’s not fair. It’s living on while we…” he whimpers some more.

Suddenly, Steve says “He broke one of the fuel lines! There’s still liquid oxygen in the tanks!” Uh…what? Steve goes over to the probe and pulls down the hatch. A moment later, he’s extracted a canister, which is hissing. “I’ve got to cap it off before it all escapes,” says Steve. Uh, where to begin?

1) What’s a canister of liquid oxygen doing in an unmanned probe?

1b) In the fuel line no less?

2) Why is the “liquid” oxygen hissing out of the canister like gas?

3) If this is a tank of oxygen in its gaseous form and Charlie hit it with a bullet–remember the finale of Jaws?

While Steve fiddles with the canister, Charlie says “I feel sort of silly about…well…” “Forget it,” smiles Steve. Dottie adds “Looks like you might have saved the day, Charlie.” Yep, nothing like a little blind panic to come through in a crisis situation.

Steve twists the neck of the canister (but not of Charlie). This somehow tells him that “a fourth of the original oxygen” is still inside. Doc says that buys them 4 or 5 days at least. Charlie concludes with a piece of IMMORTAL DIALOGUE.

It will be night soon and they need shelter, so they decide to hide under the probe. Before that, we see a scene of Dorothy and Steve staring at the desert. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she says, noting that the wind blowing the sands across the dunes is dreamlike. “In its own alien way, I guess it is,” says Steve. Later, he says “”It’s another world all right.” Apparently, Steve’s never been to a beach on Earth.

“I wonder what tomorrow will bring,” ponders Dorothy. Cue sound lighting sound effect. Light flashes on them. Steve says “Looks like a big one coming up!” Another plothole? No, a storm, which predictably is never seen. We just see characters reacting to it, which is a lot cheaper. Captain helps Dorothy up. (Amazing. Even though she doesn’t screech like an idiot at a rubber monster, they still managed to make her a frail helpless woman.)

Next, a shot of them huddled under the probe. “What was that you said? ‘Dream-like’?” Steve asks Dottie. “Perhaps I should have said ‘nightmare,'” she replies. Hey, save the comedy relief for the real expert, the comic genius that is Charlie, ok?

Looking off camera, Steve says “The storm seems to be building in intensity.” There are no extra sound or lighting effects to verify this. “I’d sure hate to get snowed in here,” says Charlie. Now admittedly the weather patterns of other planets are largely unknown to us, but I’m guessing it’s a fairly safe bet it won’t snow in a desert, even on Mars. No, Charlie’s delivery didn’t seem to indicate an attempt at humor.

The next day, though, everything looks just the same as it did. Charlie is mucking around with some kind of device, muttering “Darn sand gets into everything.” Apparently they’re getting another signal. Charlie is asked if it’s just static, and he says “no, it’s a signal, but it keeps on fading.” Uh, a signal can only fade for so long before it become undetectable. Does he mean “fading in and out,” like the audience’s consciousness?

Steve calls “Hey, I think I’ve found something.” Considering what his find is, he’s remarkably restrained. It’s what appears to be a few half-buried stones, arranged like brickwork, or a flagstone road. Looking at it, they can’t tell what it is, because they’re idiots. They try to uncover more of it by making vague wiping motions. Another abrupt cut, and they seem to be staring at the stones, completely unchanged. It’s implied that the fury of the storm exposed the stones, but they appear to be buried less than an inch deep, so pardon me if I’m not so impressed by the power of nature on this planet.

Steve says “Stone. Form a definite pattern.” Doc says “You’re right. They’re too symmetric to have been formed by nature.” And then Dorothy asks “But if not by nature, how?” Dotty, this isn’t split particle physics. Narrow it down. If nature didn’t form the stones, what does that leave you with?

Doc says something that was probably not said at any point during the filming of The Wizard of Mars. “Some form of intelligence was at work here.” Okay, we’ve got the point.

Astonishingly (or perhaps not) Charlie is still not up to speed. “You mean somebody built this?” At this point, Doc grabs him by the shoulders and slams him so hard against the bricks that it nearly cracks open his helmet. He presses his face an inch away from the terrified Charlie and hisses through clenched teeth “Yes, you moron. For the 80th time, this was built. It was not formed by nature. Some form of intelligence, meaning some kind of alien species, deliberately constructed this here. Any more questions?”

Okay, that’s not what happens. But it is what I would have done.

Now it’s Steve’s turn to have brain cramp. “You mean there’s life on this planet?” Oh, for God’s sake. They’ve already been attacked. Yes, there’s life on this planet. Okay, he meant ‘intelligent life.’ Well, he was the first to assert that the stones could not have occurred naturally.

The Doc answers his question with: “Who can say? This is more of an archeological discovery than life itself.” You know, if I had been stuck in a party with these four halfwits, I would have cannibalized them all for food the moment we crashed, even if we’d had supplies for four years. When you find evidence of an ancient city or roadway, don’t you intend to assume that something put that city there? And planned to use it somehow? When they unearthed Pompeii, they didn’t wait until they found the bodies to speculate that people, like, inhabited the place.

Somehow Doc says that the stones are ancient and could have been buried for millions of years. An inch of sand seems kind of thin for a million years in the desert, but I’m not a scientist like Doc, so what do I know? Dotty says “Similar to Troy on our own planet.” Yes, except not. I’m not a historian or archeologist (as my errors in the Firewalker review prove), but I can confidently state Troy wasn’t buried for millions of years.

Doc says “For all we know we’re standing atop what was a great civilization.” This implies that it’s buried beneath them. So, Doc, what kind of civilization builds stone roads over their cities? Suddenly, they notice another set on the hill, which was visible in earlier shots, and we’ve already forgotten about them. Since we saw them earlier and they’re obviously out in the open, we thought they’d already spotted them, too.

“Looks like some ancient travel route,” says Steve, awkwardly, so he can set up Dorothy’s next line. “A golden road,” she declares. Get it? Dorothy? A Golden “yellow-brick road”? Just thank your lucky stars there are no musical numbers. Well, on second thought, “If Only Had a Brain” would fit in nicely here.

I don’t know if they are supposed to have traveled for awhile, because there’s another abrupt cut. Suddenly, we are staring at what looks like a big green castle. I think that way back when I had fish, I had one of these sitting in a bed of blue rock at the bottom of my aquarium. I guess this is supposed to be “The Emerald City.” (Whoa, it’s all coming together now, isn’t it?)

Don't follow the yellow brick road!I have one of these in my fish tank, plus this really cool pirate skeleton that sits up and down...

“Do you see what I see?” asks Charlie. Well, gosh, Charlie, it’s only filling the entire screen. That weird flashing light we saw on the Yes album cover is here, too.

“A pulsating light!” says Steve “That’s what I saw through the cavern just before.” Only, he never mentioned seeing any light in the cavern before. His narration takes over: “A mysterious red dome surrounds the city. Its appearance as alien as the city itself.” You didn’t see that when you surveyed Mars, huh? Nice mapping job, guys.

Now the shot shows a rocky quarry, which our heroes are making their way through, down a slope. They believe the main stage is inside the city. “We’ve come this far, might as well go the rest of the way,” says Steve again. No, go back and turn around, Steve. Sheesh.

“Looks like a long hike,” says Steve. “Well, I hope the long hike leads us to something,” says Charlie. Uhm, wouldn’t you call an alien city “something”? As they make their way down the hill, one of them slides slightly and Dorothy cries “Watch out!” Whew, what nail-biting drama. In order to make some use of Charlie, they use him as a toboggan to slide safely down the rest of the hill. Okay, they don’t do that, but it is what I would have done.

“In a way, it’s beautiful,” says Dorothy, apparently meaning in the way that clogged latrines are beautiful. They wonder if it’s still inhabited. Charlie says something has stopped the signal. Not ominously, though. Nothing happens in this movie, ominous or otherwise. If you’re thinking the pace will likely pick up now, you’re gravely mistaken.

Next shot shows their suits, piled on the floor. They are inside the city, and have removed them. “It’s musty, but breathable,” Chucky notes. “Yes, lucky for us! Enough to sustain human life,” says Steve. Well, it’s pretty odd that an abandoned alien city would have such a human-friendly environment, but not as odd as the four explorers taking off their suits and abandoning them in the halls of the city. I guess they don’t anticipate the atmosphere turning sour, or having to leave the city in a hurry.

The interior of the city consists of little more than a series of dark green columns, which form a hallway. Noting the cobwebs, they speculate nobody’s been around for a long time. Joker Charlie (and apparently not joking) says “Nobody but the spiders, or whatever passes for spiders around here.” Charlie, that’s not what causes this kind of web. Why don’t you stick with the jokes? That’s what you’re best at. (Yes, his jokes suck, but sadly, this is still what he’s best at.)

So now we get extended shots of them wandering around pillars while “whooorrrrrrr-wwweeeeeooooow” noises play on the soundtrack. There’s about a minute of this, until finally they come to a partially damaged wall with humanoid scorch marks on the floor.

Investigating, Steve reaches down and grabs a pinch of the charred remains. Good idea, Steve. I see these people treat the possibility of exposure to alien diseases with the utmost concern. When you’re sitting in quarantine on Earth and suddenly your entire body turns green and dissolves into a puddle, think about this moment.

“Looks like they were cremated alive,” they remark. How they know the creatures were alive or dead when they were burnt is beyond me. Charlie, meanwhile, has discovered some kind of alien device and handling it very close to his face. Hey, you guys ever consider doing safety for a nuclear power plant?

“You’d better be careful,” warns Doc. Oh, now they should be careful? “You don’t know what that alien thing is!”

Charlie speculates that the aliens were using it to cut through the wall. He handles it a little more, and then flame spurts out of one end. He fiddles with it some more, again putting his face very close to the device while he does. Somehow, he manages to retain his eyebrows.

“See, I was right! It’s a cutting torch of some kind! I think I’ll keep it,” he says. Then, he gets some stone-faced stares from the Doc and Steve. Apparently, this is supposed to mean something, though we can’t tell these expressions apart from any of their other expressions.

“It might come in handy,” he protests. More staring. “All right, I’ll leave it here,” he says reluctantly. That’s right. Why would anyone want to keep a piece of alien technology, anyway?

“Come on, let’s search this place and get it over with,” whines Dotty. “This place gives me the shivers!” She doesn’t look like she has the shivers though. She delivers the line more like she’s constipated. Her lips don’t appear to be synced either, so it’s possible her voice has been dubbed.

Charlie demonstrates the correct safety procedure for handling unknown alien technology"Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

So they wander through the corridors some more. This city appears to consist entirely of columns. You don’t think they used just one set but shot it from every conceivable angle to make it look like different areas, do you? Nah, couldn’t be.

Dorothy then makes the most insane assertion of the movie (yes, even better than the science). She says that the architecture is changing. Well…it ain’t. “You mean all these columns, ” quips Charlie. “This must have been a real jazzy place in its time.” I can’t decide, what ages faster–special effects, or what passes for ‘hip’ dialogue?

Now it’s Doc’s turn to make a shaky observation, “Besides the change in the architecture, I’ve noticed these passageways all seem to lead in the same direction, no matter which ones we take.” Doc, in order to know that, you would had to have taken the other passages. Still, the Doc is convinced that they’re headed towards some kind of “central area.”

Suddenly, Steve has found something new. One of the columns has a hole in it, leading him to announce that they’re actually “some sort of crystal-like containers.” When he touches one, it produces a chime sound to give us an audio clue.

After further examination, they speculate that something valuable was inside and whoever broke in used a blow torch to get at it. Steve wisely sticks his hand in the hole and begins mucking about. It’s moments like this that make you wish the creatures from Aliens were around to vividly demonstrate the stupidity of this.

Steve’s arm emerges with a handful of red dust. Geez, once again they demonstrate the utmost care when handling unfamiliar alien materials. We’re going to seal the lot of you in a plastic bag for about five years when you get back to Earth.

Doc says that the containers must have been built to last an “eternity.” He then adds “and their contents.” Good one Doc. You caught that it would be pretty silly to build a container that can last an eternity but not protect its contents at all. Doc’s brilliance has intrigued Charlie. “You’ve got my curiosity up, Doc. Let’s see what we find in some of these others.” They waste lots of time polishing off another column. Suddenly, Dorothy recoils in horror.

Inside the container is what looks like a dead alien. It has a big, pudgy face with what appears to be an exposed brain on top. It looks a little like what Quark from Deep Sleep Nine (I mean Deep ‘Space’ Nine) would look like if he’d been killed and left to decompose for a few years.

Quark's great grandfather.

Nobody seems to be all that excited beyond the initial shock to have discovered an alien body. Could you imagine the stir that would have been caused if Apollo 11 had brought back a preserved alien body? The crew would have been even more famous than they are today. Imagine not only the incredible pride of being the first person to walk on the moon, but to also be the one to prove we aren’t alone in the universe. These guys are just standing around like they’re in a museum when they’d rather be at a football game. I guess they aren’t bold pioneer astronauts. Apparently in 1975 people who commit minor crimes will be assigned astronaut jobs as community service.

Apparently, all the columns have these bodies in them. Doc has somehow determined that they’re “Beings that were capable of developing an intelligence far beyond their own cranial capacity.” Oh, I guess that’s a little like storing more liquid in a cup that’s already full.

The alien has started to move behind them, but they don’t notice. Steve says “Judging from the artificial encasement of the brain, they must have undergone thousands of years of mental evolution in one life time.” The exposed brain is a common motif in bad sci-fi. I’d like to quote my friend Kenn Scott here on the subject: “That always struck me as impractical.” Mr. Scott is a (good) movie buff (though he tells me he once attended a double-bill featuring Casablanca and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes).

Also, the word “evolution” is thrown about haphazardly and inappropriately from here until the movie’s overdo conclusion. Evolution just doesn’t work the way they described it (there’s a shock). In the extreme nutshell version, a species first produces a “mutation,” a slight variation on the existing species. And we’re not talking atomic five arms, three eyes kind of mutations. It could be something as simple as, say, slightly tougher finger nails. If this particular new feature is any use, it will help the mutation survive and reproduce, and the mutation will be passed on when the mutant breeds. Then, when the entire species has tougher fingernails, evolution has occurred. This sort of thing obviously takes a lot longer than “a single lifetime.”

Referring to the “mental evolution,” Doc says “It’s almost unbelievable [stilted actor pause] there is such a thing” Almost?

Finally, Charlie notices the alien and points a rifle at it (perhaps that big red glow around its brain finally clued them in. Dorothy registers her horror again by recoiling slightly and biting her finger. I will never complain about the bad actresses in slasher flicks again.

Doc bats away rifle and says “I don’t think it sees us.” Charlie says “It’s looking right at me,” but Steve agrees and says that it only senses them. Of course, the alien keeps looking at one character and then the other, so that sort of blows this idea away.

Steve puts his hand on the case, and pushes his face really close to the container. Seriously, am I being paranoid here, or are these guys really asking for trouble? As it stands they have no way of knowing the alien’s intentions or disposition. Even if they do mean no harm, look at it this way. When the Europeans first arrived in North America, they brought with them diseases that the Natives had never been exposed to. The results were catastrophic. And this is just the difference of two continents on teeny-tiny Earth. Chances are that when we make space exploration a little more practical, the spread of disease will become a big concern.

Well, apparently by 1975 we’ll have this sorted out enough not to worry about it. Steve has his hand on the container, and we hear more warpo noises on the soundtrack. The alien’s hand slides up on the other side of the case to meet his. This is the funniest moment of the movie, and naturally it’s unintentional. Steve gets a weird looks on his face, and his eyes rolls back in his head. His head sways limply. It’s the look most associated with a) discount lobotomies, b) the look on people’s face when they’re being executed in the electric chair and c) watching The Wizard of Mars in more than five minute stretches at a time.

Surgeon General's Warning: Watching five minutes of this movie can lead to severe brain damage

There’s a weird whispering noise on the soundtrack. While this is going on, the other twits just stand there and watch. Better him than them, I guess. Finally Doc pulls him away. “It’s all right,” Steve smiles reassuringly. He says it’s “…as if they were trying to share my mind.” Did they all decline it then and return it, or wasn’t there enough to go around?

“They mean us no harm, it’s as if they were trying to communicate.” Steve struggles to explain his experience. “Their thoughts are many, vague.” Oh, he just mind-melded with the scriptwriters. He continues “As though an image was half-formed…” Oh no wait, he’s talking about the special effects. “…of a meeting place, where many minds were gathering.” Well, one thing’s for sure: he’s obviously not talking about a theater or a drive-in where this was playing.

“They want us there, now. ” Inside the case, the alien turns to look down the hall, where there’s an obvious archway awaiting. Doc says it must be in there. Yep, we’d all be lost without Doc.

“Count me out, I’m not going on in there,” says Charlie. Although Steve is supposedly in charge of this mission, he has made no kind of command decision or action. He lets Charlie get away with his cowardice. He simply says “We have no choice,” and walks up to the archway. There are a lot of cobwebs on the archway. They pause for a long time, as if figuring out what to do. Finally they tear it down and step inside.

Next, there is a sad “special effects montage” of these creatures’ head floating down hallways towards the room. Inside the room we see a huge glowing brain, and suddenly the image of John Carradine appears. Yep, John Carradine, the top-billed actor, remember?

There’s some “alien” chatter, cleverly realized by running the audio tape backwards. One word is recognizable–“evolution.” “I only understand a part of what you say,” says Stevie. “…an evolution? What evolution? What manner of life are you?”

Carradine begins to speak . He appears in this movie for just over ten minutes, and only as a talking head. Like Oz the Great and Terrible, get it? Except there is nothing behind the curtain, probably because they couldn’t afford something behind a curtain (or, for that matter, a curtain). So, we have a character named Dorothy, a Yellow Brick Road, an Emerald City, and a Wizard. And that’s why the movie is called The Wizard of Mars. Get it? I think I’m going to make a sequel starring Steve Guttenberg and the Village People called Mars Can’t Stop the Music.

As with all scenes in this movie, this conversation is overlong, with long-winded showy Superior Alien Intellect Stuff. But damn it, they’ve got John Carradine and they’re bloody well going to get some mileage out of him. Carradine offers up the closest thing to a performance, though. His voice is given a semi-majestic reverb effect, and he speaks wearily and with a long sad face (well, considering the turkey he’s appearing in, perhaps he’s not acting in this scene after all). For some reason, the filmmakers also projected a starfield on his image. So occasionally, his face is obscured by painted stars. It looks a lot like a passing bird pooped on the screen.

John Carradine curses those &*^#ing seagullsJohn Carradine enjoys the cold refreshing taste of milk

“I see perplexity among you,” he observes. The many questions in their minds apparently prevent him from figuring out what they’re doing here. They ask who he is.

“I am a composite being,” he says. “A manifestation of the many minds that are the last inhabitants of this, the last city on this world.” Strangely enough, this echoes the dialogue from the finale of Doomsday Machine. You know, these similarities can’t be entirely coincidental, but beyond the similarities, I can’t find a connection between the two movies. Anyone else want to try some detective work here and figure out a) what cast or crew members helped shape both movies or b) find the movie both DM and WOM were ripping off?

The ‘Wizard’ continues to spout pretentious longwinded dialogue. His race is so old that “there is no human comparison.” Well, cosmically speaking the human race is nothing but an embryo, but we’ve got a decent comprehension of how long things take in space. We’ve estimated the age of the universe, so try us, Mister Wizard Smart Ass.

JC recites another line that sounds an awful (awful in any way you care to interpret) like dialogue used in the ending (if you can call it that) of Doomsday Machine. “Our race has witnessed during the span of our evolution, the birth a death of suns and worlds untold.” Wow, that is old. Now, did the species originate from Mars, or did they just end up there? I assume they didn’t sit on their duffs on one planet, so why wasn’t Earth colonized?

After this glowing pronouncement, he asks where they’re from. Hang on! He knew they were human but didn’t know where they came from? They tell him that they’re from Earth, and he replies “Earth? Earth, you say? The green world sunward from ours?” Why, yes. Good guess, old dude. How is he familiar with the human word for their own homeworld? Guess he really is a superior alien intellect.

“At one time we theorized it would evolve intelligent life,” he says. “And so it has.” Fortunately, his alien wisdom allows him to see past these four lobotomy patients and realize that there is genuine intelligence back home on Earth.

They explain that they were on a mapping mission. “There have been others here before you,” says JC. “But we were the first manned space probe sent here,” protests Steve. This is pretty narrow-minded thinking for an astronaut who is having a chat with an alien lifeform. Of course, he’s making these obvious blunders so that we can get one of those snotty “you human are so primitive” speeches, which JC makes, briefly. Just once wouldn’t you like to hear a “superior ancient lifeform” speak to humans and say “Hey good one, humans! That never even occurred to us!”

Next JC asks how they crashed on Mars. Herr Doktor offers up some of the most brutally delivered technobabble of the movie (no mean feat). “Our craft encountered an invisible but solid magnetic barrier within your atmosphere. Something unbelievable happened up there.” Yeah. Unbelievable, unconvincing, and unimpressive. “Our ship was thrown back and forth, as if caught between the grip of two mighty and opposing forces.” He takes an extra long pause, as if even he can’t believe what he’s saying. “We were forced into your gravitational pull, and crashed on your planet, after ejecting our main stage.” He then explains how they followed the signal here, assuming it was the main stage.

Again, more dialogue from JC reminiscent of DM: “The signal that you received was a warning. Had you been able to decipher it, you would not have come here.” Hey, if the signal was a warning, why did it suddenly cut off, as Charlie mentioned earlier? JC says now they shall share his fate: “For as long as we remain imprisoned upon this world, so shall you remain.”

At the news that they can’t leave, there’s a round of extremely stilted reactions shots. Finally, Charlie says that they can send a signal once they find the main stage, and leave. Charlie wants to know why JC would prevent this.

But a bigger question is this: Charlie has confirmed that the purpose of finding the main stage was to send a signal. Presumably then rescue craft would come and pick them up. Dorothy said though that they could send a signal from their crashed vessel. The others rejected this idea because they didn’t believe the signal would get through. So they rejected Dorothy’s sound idea in favor of a dangerous trek across a hostile environment to send a signal from a different portion of the ship. Whhhhyyyyy? True, the original portion apparently exploded, but there was no indication that they knew this was about to happen.

Wiz says they are incapable of physical action, but are trapped “within a dimension of time of our own creation.” Doc chips in, and delivers one of the worst performances of the movie (again, no mean feat).

“You are right in assuming we do not understand. You speak of an undecipherable warning.” For some reason, Doc’s talking with his eyes closed. “A warning from what? A fate of imprisonment? While you are incapable of physical action?” Huh? “Imprisoned by what? This dimension of time?” What part of “trapped within a dimension of time of our own creation” didn’t you understand, Doc?

Doc is such a natural performer he can do Clark Gable with his eyes closed.

JC drones on about how great his race used to be, spanning the cosmos, that sort of jive. How strange that a race that was so large and well traveled never bothered to set up shop on Earth, and that the whole race eventually retreated to Mars to die.

JC says that their race brought back treasures from across the galaxy (so, like, where are they)? But “we gathered the greatest of all treasures, knowledge.” Oh, that’s original. Unfortunately, as time wore on and “The end of our evolution drew near,” they were worried that time would take everything from them, so they began to experiment with time.

“We struck a balance between these two great universal forces–the past and the future.” And so they invented…the present? They also went on to “conquer death and pluck our fair city out of time.” You see, they’re one of those sci-fi races that inexplicably have the intelligence to freeze time, but not to realize that being stuck frozen in a booth for all eternity would really suck. Oh yeah, and for some reason they were still using stone roads when their empire collapsed.

“That transgression upon time was contrary to the laws of the universe,” rumbles JC. Well, obviously not, if they succeeded. “For as there can be no life without death…so, life itself became meaningless without death.” Now they realize that it is their destiny to die, but can’t do it. “That there exists a promise of something very strange and very great. A promise beckoning to us from beyond the rim of the universe.” Again, apparently they want to go rim-hopping like the humans at the end of Doomsday Machine as well.

Doc says “It’s hard to believe…that a race as great yours cannot free itself from a prison of their own creation. If you stopped time, why can’t you start it again?” JC replies that time can be restarted, but it “requires an act of physical strength of which we are incapable.” Advanced aliens apparently could stop time but not develop robots or something to fix things up for them. So it looks like our foursome will have to do it. I don’t know about you, but this primitive human isn’t so impressed with the superior lifeform.

“But how?” asks Doc. “We have no knowledge of how you stop time. Therefore,” he throws arms in the air “how do you start it again?” The human language has yet to develop words to describe how bad his acting is here.

“Our minds grow weary,” says JC. Looks like these four have succeeded in boring him too. He asks them to “replace the sphere within the mechanism.” Naturally, they don’t know what he’s talking about here.

“You will know it,” says JC. “For it is the symbol of time universal to all races.” If there are other forms of intelligent life in the universe, I doubt very much that there are symbols universal to them all. And another thing. What’s the deal with these Martians? They’d rather speak in riddles and risk prolonging their imprisonment than inform the Earth kids what to do directly?

JC ends his lengthy dialogue (this lasted 10 minutes!) with a few gong noises, and then vanishes. To say I trimmed this scene down is to hold up page 3 of War and Peace and say “there are a few more pages.”

Suddenly the crew is staring at a pedestal with a sphere on top. Dorothy says “That must be the sphere. But what mechanism is it part of?” Charlie wants to leave to find the main stage, Doc wants to fiddle around with the time problem, so another lame argument breaks out. Captain Steve says “The main stage is lost. Face it. We’ve been chasing wild signals everywhere.” Well, now, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. “Now let’s give Doc the benefit of the doubt.” Uh okay, but if Steve believes the main stage is lost, how will helping the aliens get them home?

Steve lifts the sphere from the pedestal, and in a horribly faked moment, he drops the sphere. It couldn’t be more obvious that the actor dropped it deliberately if it he had spiked it and began doing a touchdown dance. Inside the sphere, we can see the Emerald City. A little later, we find them using the alien blow torch on the section of the wall they found earlier. Okay, so what killed the two aliens then? Oh, well, the movie is almost over, it hardly matters.

While Charlie cuts, they remark that they hope this is what they’re looking for as there is no place else to look. What, they skipped a long scene of pointless wandering? Way to go! “If it is, it will solve a lot of mysteries,” says Steve. Well, one or two actually, but who’s counting?

Charlie stops cutting and tries to push the cut section in. I can’t help but notice he is holding a section of the recently cut wall in his bare hands. They push in on the wall, but we are not shown it giving. Instead, we cut to a new scene with them in the next chamber.

The new chamber has what seems to be a giant pendulum. There is a sun with a face on it. This apparently is “A symbol of time, universal to all races.” They stare at it for awhile.

Apparently, whatever they need to do is up somewhere in the “clockwork” about their heads. Dorothy says “It’s so close…yet just beyond our reach.” Alas, to have come so far, only to be foiled by the absence of a stepladder! Oh fortune, how cruel is thy humor!

But wait! Clever Charlie has a cunning plan. He has Steve give him a boost! Hurrah! They day is saved! Hanging from the clockwork, Chucky asks for the orb with the city. Fortunately, the Captain doesn’t drop it this time. Slowly, the orb is passed up, and Chuck-o inserts it into an opening. The pendulum begins to swing, and we hear that alien whispering stuff again.

“The pendulum! Look out!” cried Dorothy. We see Charlie hang from it for a moment, and then drop. Wow, Charlie does his own stuntwork! Okay, perhaps they didn’t ask him to wrestle alligators or anything, but this is quite a drop. There’s lots of potential to hurt one of the performers here, and they’re lucky it didn’t happen.

Hey Charlie, we don't mind if you DROP in! HA HA HA! So how do you like a taste of your own level of comic relief?

Shots show Steve hauling The Chuckster out of the way of the pendulum. Charlie is now in an obviously different position after his landing, but anyway. We hear JC’s voice. “Your task is done. Time has been sent in motion again. Freed to continue towards the end of the future…and we towards our destiny. Do not gaze upon time too long, for as you do, your own destiny awaits you at the end of the golden road. Farewell.”

Despite his warnings, they hang around and watch the pendulum for a while. Helllloooo! The city starts collapsing, so they finally figure out it would be a primo time to leave. And it’s good thing they kept their space suits on, anticipating that they might have to leave the city in a hurry, huh? Oh wait…

Next comes over two straight minutes of them running down the halls (the same halls, shot from different angles again) while rocks pour down upon the set. Occasionally, they cut ‘outside’ to show parts of the Emerald City, which is slowly starting to disappear. They also show the pendulum, and at one point it speeds up, then splits into two, courtesy of electronoeffects. One highlight of this scene: Charlie drops the rifle, and Steve yells “Forget the gun!” Yeah, what’s the point? They’re gonna die once they get outside, anyway.

Or perhaps not. They are next shown running over the dune where they first found the road. Without their suits. The crew all collapse on the road. Then, they disappear! The next shot shows the Mars Probe in space again. Cut inside, and they’re all in their own seats. Steve looks like he has a bit of beard growth, and his face is partially smeared with some kind of black soot, as if he’s going to do an Al Jolson impersonation.

They are being hailed by Echo One. “You are two minutes overdo with your transmission!” they say with seamless expository dialogue.

Steve comes to. “Two minutes?” he asks, puzzled. That’s right, Steve! Isn’t it funny how something that seemed to take so long could actually have transpired in less time than you think? That’s why your two minutes on Mars felt like a month long struggle for survival, and our 90 minutes of watching Wizard of Mars felt like an eternity.

Cut to the starfield, where we hear JC’s voice again. “Upon unraveling the last mystery of the universe, this we learned: As without birth, there can be no life. So without death, life itself is meaningless. For without death, life cannot begin, again.” Uggh. Martian heap big philosopher.


Robin Kalhorn, who lent me this movie, described the movie as “overgrown kids playing astronaut.” That’s a pretty good assessment, though a group of five year olds in a cardboard box using football helmets for space suits could probably come up with a more exciting adventure, and better special effects. The movie is full of painfully obvious padding. Every explanation is five lines longer than it needs to be, every scene could be trimmed.

As hard as it is to believe, not everyone involved in this production vanished instantly for all eternity. Two of them did, the rest doing a couple more B movies before following their mates into the void.

There is one notable exception, and it’s not Carradine (yes, his career did continue, much to the delight of bad movie lovers everywhere). It’s the director, David L. Hewitt. He would go on to do a couple more B flicks, including Monsters Crash the Pajama Party and The Mighty Gorga. Circa 1978 he vanished for about eight years. During that period he was obviously kidnapped by aliens and replaced with an super-intelligent android, because the work he did when he got back couldn’t possibly be from the same guy. He went into special effects (!) and did work on Willow, Evil Dead II, and apparently did some uncredited work on the FX fest Terminator II! Looking at the rubber-hose aliens and the Christmas tree in space from WOM, the conclusion that he’d one day reach such heights is rather difficult to reach (all right, he did display a little of the ol’ WOM magic with the “special effects” for Superman IV).

I don’t know anything about the history of the movie, but to call it low budget is an understatement. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was a left-over production–i.e. another film’s shooting was closing but there was time enough to reuse the sets and props, so they literally whipped together another movie to take advantage of the leftover time (Roger Corman used to do this). These pictures would also steal from each other constantly, particularly the effects shots. As to the clear similarities to Doomsday Machine, well, it’s hard to say. As I mentioned before, it’s highly probable that both WOM and DM were stealing from a third party. I wonder if that movie is any better. Or any worse.


Charlie’s first attempt at comic relief sets the tone for all that is to follow:

Charlie: “Oh, and Happy New Year.” (Puts hand to mouth as if blowing on a party favor). “Toot toot!”

Charlie, a regular Nietszche:

Charlie: “The end doesn’t seem so bad. At least when it’s not right now.”

And by the way, the end was bad anyway.

  • Hi, I’ve only just read this review, and I’m afraid I need to make a very pedantic comment. (Actually, I’m not afraid, I love pedanticism),

    1) What’s a canister of liquid oxygen doing in an unmanned probe?

    1b) In the fuel line no less?

    All fuel systems in space, whether manned or unnmanned would carry liquid oxygen in the fuel line, for the simple reason that there is no oxygen in space and therefore no atmosphere to support the burning of the fuel (nothing will ignite in a vacuum). So therefore, while the rest of the film may be a steaming pile of bull, this bit is accurate.

    I hope people understood all that but then, it’s hardly rocket science is it?

  • John Nowak

    I love this review, but there’s one bit I need to comment on:

    >1) What’s a canister of liquid oxygen doing in an unmanned probe?

    I agree with Culfy. I would guess this is the leftover oxidizer for the descent engine. The touchdown rocket is presumably liquid fuelled or hybrid so it can be throttled as the probe lands.

    >1b) In the fuel line no less?

    I think that if an unmanned probe carries oxygen at all, it would be part of the engine. Yes, the character should have yelled something like “He’s broken the oxidizer line” instead of “fuel line” but it would be an easy mistake to make.

    >2) Why is the “liquid” oxygen hissing out of the canister like gas?

    The liquid oxygen remains liquid because it is under pressure. Release the pressure, and it begins to boil in Mars’ thin atmosphere. It’s like opening a hole in a pressure cooker.

    >3) If this is a tank of oxygen in its gaseous form and Charlie hit it with a bullet–remember the finale of Jaws?

    I’ve seen YouTube video of a guy shooting various pressurized tanks with a 7.62 rifle. When he put a hole in the “1970s era SCUBA tank” it rocketed about like a balloon, but it did not explode. Yes, it’s dangerous to be close to a high pressure tank with a hole in it, but kaboom? Not happening. Spielberg lied to us all.

    >The new chamber has what seems to be a giant pendulum. There is a sun with a face on it. This apparently is “A symbol of time, universal to all races.”

    I’d give them this. The period of a pendulum’s swing remains constant regardless of how wide the swing is, as long as you don’t nudge it. That’s why clocks have pendulums.

    It’s very odd that almost all of the science in the film makes absolutely zero sense — the reviewer is, I believe, correct about the “oxygen booster” nonsense — but then there’s oxygen in the fuel tanks of a lander, and a pendulum is a “universal symbol of time” — which I think it is. It’s weird how some parts of the film’s script are well-reasoned (if not “well filmed”) and others are pure gibberish.