A team of astronauts (Darren McGavin, Nick Adams and George DeVries) are sent off on an 18 month-long mission to Mars. There is some chat about a 3-man Russian Mars mission that has been shrouded in secrecy. Once they get settled, they break out the pre-fab instant meals, but Adams gets a big laugh when he chows into a pastrami sandwich he snuck aboard. We then get a montage of everyday activities aboard the ship—exercise, relaxing under a sun lamp, playing chess, getting a haircut—and things go well until they see the frozen bodies of two cosmonauts floating in space (where's the third?, they wonder). They fly through a meteor storm unscathed and land on Mars where, during an exploration trip, they run across the third Russian, frozen, and take him back to the ship. Then contact with another life form occurs when a huge glowing orb materializes in front of their ship and small mechanical looking things that the crew calls Polarites appear and shoot deadly rays. NASA wants them to take off, but the aliens jam use an electromagnetic field to jam both their communications and their engines, so the three are stuck there. DeVries approaches the orb but is blinded, burned up, and taken into the orb. The cosmonaut thaws out, the orb starts speaking, repeating words that the astronauts speak, and Adams sacrifices himself so that McGavin and the Russian can escape. In the last scene, as the two are heading home, McGavin is given the news that his wife is going to a have a child.
This low-budget affair seems to have drawn some inspiration from 2001, even though it was released only three months after that film. The chess game and the sun lamp bathing are right from the earlier movie, and the soundtrack after they land on Mars reminds me of the avant-garde music heard in the latter scenes in 2001. But any resemblance ends there. Though the storyline has promise, the filmmakers don’t have enough money or imagination to make this anything more than of mild interest to fans of SF schlock. The three leads are fine, but everyone else comes off as amateurs. The film was shot in Miami, and it's been reported that most of the cast were locals. None stand out except a big bearded bear named Michael DeBeausset who plays the chief NASA liaison. The spacesuits the men wear are skintight and white and do not flatter them; the crotches look like those in long underwear. The helmets the men wear are just transparent shields that don't connect to the suits. The music bounces wildly around; under the credits is a pop song called "No More Tears" that has no relation to the movie; the rest of the score is loud, jazzy pop until the strange electronic stuff comes in on Mars. The Martian landscape is stagy but effective. McGavin and Adams both seem a little embarrassed and restrained; the quiet, stolid DeVries occasionally resembles Martin Landau. The director, Nicholas Webster, did a lot of TV but is mostly known for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The first half of this film is marginally better than that one, but the last half does get better. Pictured from left to right are DeVries, Adams and McGavin. [YouTube]