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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Mars Needs Moms

August 6th, 2011

Mars Needs Moms - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, or 3-D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

Mars Needs Moms will go down as the year's biggest flop (unless something bigger comes along later in the year) and was a major reason for the closure of the studio responsible, ImageMovers Digital. The film cost $150 million to make and made only $40 million worldwide, which is beyond disappointing. However, it doesn't necessarily mean the film itself is bad and perhaps it was unfairly overlooked at the box office. Is that the case?

The Movie

The film begins on Mars with the Mars Rover looking for life. Little do they know that miles below the surface, there is a thriving civilization. Well, not exactly thriving. The Martians are spying on Earth, because they are in desperate need of someone to look after their young ones. Mars needs moms. They find the perfect candidate in Mom, mother to Milo. She's picked because she is actually able to get Milo to take out the trash, as opposed to the other two moms they spy on, who have no control over their kids.

Milo, on the other hand, is not too fond of his Mom, for that very reason. (Also, she makes him eat broccoli.) That night the two of them get into a fight, and the last thing he says before he's sent to bed is, "...my life would be so much better if I didn't have a mom at all." Later when he goes to apologize, he's too late and his mom has been abducted by aliens. A short chase ends with Milo trapped in the Martians' space ship as they blast off into space. Of course he's captured immediately, but it isn't long before he's cell door opens and he's told how to escape by a strange man, Gribble. Gribble's been here for a long time and he's happy to have company. He does agree to help Milo rescue his mom, but only as a way to show him how dangerous Mars can be. Neither of their plans work and Gribble ends up captured by The Supervisor, the ruler of Mars. Meanwhile, Milo would have been caught, or worse, had it not been for the intervention of Ki, a rebellious Martian who learned about humans through 1960s TV.

There's a chance this film's failure at the box office will spell the end of motion capture films like this. That's too bad, as I think they were finally at the point where the technology can be used to create realistic human characters that don't fall into the uncanny valley. Or if they do, they are on the right side and it will only get better from here. On the other hand, I do question the wisdom of spending $100 million on a motion capture setup when all you are doing is making the characters look as much like their real life counterparts as possible. Allowing Seth Green at 37 to play a nine-year old is useful, as is being able to use a stuntman to do any difficult stunt without worrying about how well the stuntman matches the actor physically, but I don't think it's worth $100 million. Using motion capture for non-human characters in otherwise live-action movies makes more sense than how it is used here.

As for the non-technical aspects of the film, it's not bad. There's not a huge amount of story here and we don't get a lot of character development between Milo and his Mom before the action starts, which is a complaint some have raised. I think it's enough to set up the emotional weight of the film; after all, Milo is trying to recuse his mom, so the emotional connection should be a given. And when he does realize how much he loves his mom, it has enough impact. The action scenes are very well done and look good without the 3-D. (I haven't made the leap just yet, but I might soon.) The jokes between Milo and Gribble usually hit their mark. Ki adds the right note as the lone Martian rebel and the romance between her and Gribble is cute. Mindy Sterling is great, as always, even if the character is a little underutilized.

On a side note, the film is darker than I expected. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the plot centers on Martians abducting and killing mothers in order to raise their kids. Plus, we don't just hear about it, we see it happen to Gribble's mom in a flashback. That will likely be too much for many younger kids.

The Extras

Fun with Seth is a two-minute long behind-the-scenes featurette, mostly about Seth Green goofing off. Martian 101 is a three-minute featurette on the language that was invented for the movie. That's it for the DVD. Both featurettes are worth checking out, but that's not nearly enough for a first-run release. The DVD is purely a rental.

The Blu-ray has the above, plus nearly half-an-hour of deleted scenes, if you include the running time of the introductions. They are in various stages of production, from initial motion capture footage to final product, depending on when they were cut. You can also watch the movie with a Picture-in-Picture track that combines the motion capture footage with an audio commentary track with the director, Simon Wells, and the two leads, Seth Green and Dan Fogler. It's quite energetic and they focuses heavily on the motion capture process.

As for the technical presentation, it's flawless, or very near to it. The level of detail is incredible, the colors flourish, blacks are inky without hindering details, etc. There are no compression artifacts to be seen, no banding, aliasing, etc. The audio is equally strong with the surround sound speakers and the base getting a workout. The score is especially present in the rear and side speakers.

Finally we come to the price. On Amazon.com, the DVD costs $17, the Blu-ray cost $23, and the 3-D Blu-ray costs $28. A 35% premium to go from DVD to Blu-ray is good, especially considering the quality of the audio and video, not to mention the exclusive Blu-ray extras, extras that push the technology. Plus it comes with the DVD. If you have made the leap to 3-D, then paying $5 more for the full package is also worth it.

The Verdict

Mars Needs Moms is not a classic family film, but it is far better than its box office numbers would indicate. I would say its on par with Gnomeo and Juliet. If you are interested in seeing it, but not buying, then the DVD is fine. If you are looking to purchase, then the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is better value for your money. If your kids love 3-D and you've made the leap, then the 3-D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack isn't a bad deal.


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Filed under: Video Review, Mars Needs Moms