Obviously the White House screening room isn’t stocked with classic sci-fi.

If it were, President Bush, in his rush to reactivate NASA’s space program, would push right on past Mars.

To say that the fourth planet from the sun has a public relations problem would be putting it mildly.

According to Hollywood, with the possible exception of the “My Favorite Martian” theme song, nothing good ever has come from poking around on the Red Planet.

Living up to its namesake (the Roman god of war), Mars in the movies is a barren, storm-tossed, inhospitable place, home to bug-eyed monsters, death-ray-packin’ invaders and worse – Pia Zadora.

“Bad things happen when you go there,” says Frank M. Robinson, author of “Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History.” “I don’t know of any movie offhand in which the Martians are good. … Also, the fact that it’s the red planet doesn’t help – red for communists, red for blood, etc.”

Consider the evidence, just outside of Spirit rover’s view:

•”Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars” (1938): In this vintage Universal serial (available, like most of these, on DVD), Buster Crabbe bypasses the planet Mongo for Mars, where, in his bid to save Earth, he tangles with old nemesis Ming the Merciless.

•”Rocketship X-M” (1950): Described as “the first serious postwar sci-fi movie” by the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, this low-budget entry deposits a crew of five on a Mars ravaged by war and overrun by mutant cavemen.

•”The War of the Worlds” (1953): In this prestige update of the seminal H.G. Wells novel, Martians – riding stingray-like war machines – zap first and ask questions later.

•”Invaders from Mars” (1953): Goggle-eyed sentinels in funny suits burrow into a sand pit in the young hero’s backyard. For what purpose? To steal military secrets and blow things up, of course. Hey, it’s the Cold War!

•”It! The Terror from Beyond Space” (1958): It’s described by a survivor as “dangerous, treacherous – alive with something we came to know as death.” Stuntman Crash Corrigan in a scaly monster suit (look for the zipper up the back) as a Martian who hops a ride on an Earth-bound ship. A grade-Z “Alien.”

•”The Angry Red Planet” (1959): Great title, chintzy amoeba- and crab-like monsters, shot in a new process called Cinemagic (a k a red cellophane).

•”Robinson Crusoe on Mars” (1964): Title tells all in this smarter-than-usual entry about a shipwrecked astronaut who battles meteor storms and isolation.

•”Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964): St. Nick and two Earth children are kidnapped by little green men and forced to spread holiday cheer on Mars. With Pia Zadora as a Martian elf. Very very bad Santa.

•”Mars Needs Women” (1968): Tommy Kirk and four other Martians in wetsuits and antennae discover that Earth girls aren’t easy in this zero-budget drive-in attraction.

•”Capricorn One” (1978): You know those conspiracy theorists who say the Apollo 11 moon landing never took place? Well, they were right about this nine-years-later Mars shot: It’s a politically motivated hoax! Here, just the thought of Mars makes people do bad things.

•”Total Recall” (1990): Before he dreamed of the California governor’s mansion, Arnie Schwarzenegger dreamed of Mars – overrun by assassins and rebels. Based on Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

•”Mars Attacks!” (1996): Tim Burton’s goofy, trading-cards-inspired epic has it all, including Tom Jones, Jack Black and “funny little critters” in BVDs.

•”Mission to Mars” (2000): Another in that endless string of botched rescue missions. Brian De Palma’s retro-space opera was attacked as a rip-off of “2001: A Space Odyssey” when in fact it was meant as a homage to sci-fi pioneer George Pal (“Destination Moon”).

•”Red Planet” (2000): It’s 2025. We’ve depleted Earth’s resources. Next stop: Mars, where Val Kilmer and crew battle madness, heat and flesh-eating nematodes.

•”Ghosts of Mars” (2001): And who says Mars is nothing but sand-blasted real estate? John Carpenter – fusing camp sci-fi adventure and the western – scares up zombies, witch doctors and Pam Grier.



(c) 2004, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).

Visit MercuryNews.com, the World Wide Web site of the Mercury News, at http://www.mercurynews.com.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-01-15-04 1225EST



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