This science fiction drama directed by Antony Hoffman is set in the year 2050 when humankind has ravaged the earth so badly that there is a need for another home. Scientists have been introducing algae into the atmosphere over Mars in an attempt to oxygenate the red planet and prepare it for life. But the project isn't working and so six astronauts have been sent on a special mission to Mars.
The crew is made up of Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss), the mission commander; Gallagher (Val Kilmer), the flight engineer; Santen (Benjamin Bratt), co-pilot; Burchenel (Tom Sizemore), lead scientist; Pettengil (Simon Baker), agricultural specialist; and Chantilas (Terence Stamp), the elder space voyager. Things go smoothly on the six-month journey but upon approach to Mars, the ship gets caught in a solar flair that badly damages the spaceship. While Bowman tries to manage damage control, the five other crewmembers escape in a pod that bounces on the Martian landscape. Chantilas incurs a ruptured spleen and volunteers to be left behind since the men have only a brief period of time to reach a station with breathable oxygen, food, and supplies. His self-sacrifice fits right in with his spiritual nature. He's the only one on board who believes that space exploration serves to bring us closer to God and the immense mysteries of the universe.
After discovering that their outpost has been destroyed, the other crewmembers are surprised to find out they can breathe on Mars without their helmets. Their most severe problems come from their own natures. Clearly, there will never be a place in outer space that can serve as the New Jerusalem because we carry all of our demons with us wherever we go, particularly our propensity for violence, betrayal, and self-centeredness.
In the most innovative twist in this scientific thriller, it turns out that the greatest threat to the mission is an out-of-whack robotic assistant that has switched into killer military mode. Humans, it seems, are a danger to all of the galaxy, thanks to the technology we have created to destroy others. Red Planet convincingly demonstrates that the shadow side of science is scary very scary indeed.