In 1980 Ray Bradbury’s classic science fiction tale The Martian Chronicles was adapted for a TV mini-series. Rock Hudson headlined this three-night made-for-TV event, and it’s really saying something that I don’t think I ever heard anything good or bad about it until now. It must have quietly broadcast, took its lumps, and faded from view. Apparently it was made for Canada, and I can find American TV listings but I never saw it.
Earth is nearing all out war, and in a bid to save ourselves Humanity sends 2 scouting parties and they are each immediately wiped out without reporting back. Col. John Wilder (Hudson) brings a bigger crew and strange things begin happening to them immediately. One member, Major Jeff Spender (Bernie Casey), begins acting as tho he is channeling the defunct Martian race, and begins taking his team out via a strange gun type weapon. Wilder and his lieutenant, Parkhill (Darren McGaven) manage to subdue Spender and return to Earth. Earth somehow is untroubled by this and sends a fully colony worth of people of all walks of life to begin prepping Mars for hundreds of thousands more to follow. Events on both Earth and Mars continue to unravel.
The Production: 1/5
I watched all 5 hours of The Martian Chronicles so you don’t have to. I literally spent 5 hours saying “That is so dumb”, “That is a terrible idea”, “Man cocaine had to have had the entire production crew in its grasp”, and “No, they really aren’t going to spend an entire episode showing the first date between the last man and woman on Mars”. And every time I was wrong.
The special effects are 70s TV quality, terrible.
The editing is worse, lingering way past when the action has happened and often having the camera zoom off onto insignificant and out of focus details.
The story is remarkably boooring.
The music manages to be both hippy dippy and narcotic induced synth / theremin sci-fi floof.
And then somehow Bernadette Peters somehow shows up from out of nowhere, with her boobs barely contained in her dress, and proceeds to ruin whatever screen charm she might have had a chance to show. Her vapid persona only seems to highlight the rampant misogyny that has come part and parcel with the first hundred years of science fiction.
Ed Wood himself could not have made a more scientifically haphazard and unwatchable mess. It would be perfect fodder for Mystery Science Theater but I doubt even they could stand sitting through five hours of this. I found nothing redeeming in it at all, and think less of Ray Bradbury’s writing because of this production.
3D Rating: NA
It’s 1.33 formatted from the original broadcast. There’s a ton of grain, even in scenes where you might not expect to have it. The sets are kinda cool but other than that there’s not much good to report here.
Broadcast stereo in DTS format. It perfectly captures the terrible music and jarring dialogue.
Special Features: 1/5
My favorite Martian: a 15 minute interview with the main Martian, James Faulkner. Faulkner gives spinning this experience the old college try, but it’s clear he knew the production was a forgetable mess. “It should be in the Smithsonian”, yeah right.
And 5 other Kino film trailers.
If nothing else, The Martian Chronicles provides a clear nadir from which television has climbed. TV used to second class or worse, compared to today where TV is where we find some of our most compelling stories.
I can’t recommend TMC to anyone except for absolute Bradbury nuts or those who want to witness just how bad 70s TV could be.
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