There are a number of great films in the 2010 Heartland Film Festival, but none quite as eclectic as Mars. A quick glance at this year’s lineup reveals so many dramas, comedies and documentaries that it might be difficult to decide what films might suit you best. If you have a penchant for something quirky and different, Mars stands out as a non-traditional animated feature that combines elements of slacker comedies, science fiction and romance in a way few films can manage.
The story takes place a few years in the future. The space race is heating up, with the European Space Agency duking it out with NASA for bragging rights. The ESA has launched a robotic probe in an effort to explore Mars, with the hope of making a monumental discovery. NASA, not to be outdone, sends a small crew of astronauts in an attempt to be the first people to land on the red planet. This misfit gang endures a variety of trials and tribulations as they rocket toward Mars, and discover a great deal about themselves and each other on their journey.
The most striking element of the film is its unorthodox animation style. Rotoscoping (the process of drawing over filmed images) has been used before, but this particular technique utilizes software that director Geoff Marslett co-developed. Stick around for the end credits to catch a glimpse at how they shot the entire film on a green-screened sound stage and added all the backgrounds and effects in post-production. But Mars is more than just a uniquely animated feature film. The story provides a fascinating look at how modern society views exploration, particularly when compared to famous explorers of the past. Telling the tale through the eyes of a trio of misfits (two of them would perfectly fit a “slacker” classification) adds an immediate, contemporary atmosphere to the proceedings. Dry wit and humor add to the strange mix of styles, but the film somehow manages to remain coherent and cohesive, delivering a touching story that explores a number of truths about the human journey. If you’re looking for something different and spectacular during this year’s Festival, be sure to check out Mars.