The Martian Chronicles (TV, 2007)

A formative influence on me, this series. My parents let me stay up to watch it. Review from SFX 196.

1980/ 270 mins

Director: Michael Anderson

Writers: Ray Bradbury (novel), Richard Matheson

Cast: Rock Hudson, Gayle Hunnicutt, Darrin McGavin, Roddy McDowell


Brilliant miniseries from two SF titans.

The Martian Chronicles is the product of two genre titans. Drawn from the novel by Ray Bradbury (really interconnected short stories, which this series reflects) and adapted by Richard Matheson, it combines the best of both writers, Ray Bradbury’s philosophical preoccupation with the passing of things set off by Matheson’s understanding of change and rebirth. Matheson builds a good throughplot, while quotes taken directly from Bradbury’s book add to the piece’s poetry.

Split over 90 minute episodes, the series covers three phases of man’s conquest of Mars – exploration, colonisation, and harmonisation. In episode one, two missions are destroyed by the Martians before the natives succumb to chicken pox, allowing Colonel Wilder (Hudson) – main character throughout – to commence the colonisation of the Red Planet. This process reaches critical mass in the second episode, where young towns are seeded among the dead cities and canals of old Mars, but the colonists come to a realisation that the Martians are not, perhaps, extinct. The final episode deals with war on Earth, the colony’s abandonment, and the birth of a new world.

Of course, it’s dated. The technology is archaic, the geopolitical concerns a matter of history, the science proven wrong and the timescale for Martian colonisation sadly optimistic (the story is done by 2007). The miniature effects are quaint, and some of the astronauts fail to live up to their real-life counterparts’ professionalism. But great production design, make-up and those timeless filmic skills of cinematography, acting and direction give us an eerie Mars, a dead world waiting to be reborn from the wreckage of two civilisations.

This is awe-inspiring small-screen SF that surpasses any nostalgic memory you might have of it. A great picture [on the DVD] too.

Did you know…?

Even though he worked on the screenplay, Bradbury didn’t actually like the finished product, calling it boring. This led to broadcast being postponed from 1979 to 1980.

  1. Mark Celis says:

    Imaginative/innovative art direction, set and costume design (the Martian mask designs are still some of the most haunting and beautiful costumes I’ve ever seen; had a profound impact on my own design thinking for the rest of my life). But as they say every gem has one flaw: the miniature-effects sucked big-time. Thank goodness they didn’t use them very often nor depend on them.

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