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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 15:50 GMT
Artists and the Red Planet

By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

BBC News Online looks at how writers and artists have embraced the theme of Mars during the past century or so as America considers sending men to the Red Planet.

Mars, picture downloaded from US rover Spirit
The creative arts have pondered over Mars for several decades
The search for life on Mars has enthralled writers and artists for more than a century.

From H G Wells' classic text The War of The Worlds to rock band Blur recording the first song designed to be played on the planet, the creative world remains gripped by Mars' romance.

The earliest works of science fiction dealing with Mars appeared in the late 19th Century, with Kurd Lasswitz' Two Planets published in 1888.

This was followed by Gustav Pope's Journey to Mars in 1894 and Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P Serviss in 1898.

The War of the Worlds, H G Wells' groundbreaking tale of Martians invading Earth, also emerged in 1898.

The War of the Worlds was the subject of a famous US radio broadcast in 1938 by Orson Welles, which was said to have caused panic amongst some listeners who believed it to be a real transmission.

David Bowie
David Bowie's Life On Mars was released in 1971
Further sci-fi tales followed in the early part of the 20th Century, most notably with Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs' 11-volume Barsoom series beginning with A Princess of Mars in 1917, followed by The Gods of Mars (1918) and The Warlord of Mars (1919).

Other books of the period included Gulliver of Mars by Edwin Lester Linden Arnold (1905), Alexei N Tolstoy's Aelita (1922), The Green Machine by Frank A Ridley (1926) and Out Of The Silent Planet by C S Lewis (1938).

By the second half of the century, as science moved to play down the likelihood of intelligent life on Mars, a more sober reflection of the planet's status emerged among sci-fi writers.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, an acknowledged classic of the genre, appeared in 1950, followed by Arthur C Clarke's The Sands of Mars a year later.

Well-known authors writing on Mars during the period included Isaac Asimov (The Martian Way & other stories, 1955), Kurt Jr Vonnegut (Sirens of Titan, 1959) and Philip K Dick (Martian Time Slip, 1964).

Damien Hirst artwork
A version of Damien Hirst's spot painting was bound for Mars
The Red Planet hit the silver screen in 1923 with Radio Mania - also known as The Man From Mars - a sci-fi movie directed by Roy William Neill starring Betty Borders.

In 1930, a five-minute Betty Boop cartoon called Up To Mars was released by Paramount - featuring the character Bimbo in a dynamite fight with a mouse!

Moving into classic B-movie territory in 1953, director William Cameron Menzies' Invaders from Mars featured Helena Carter and Arthur Franz in a period piece about aliens landing on Earth.

More recently, director Tim Burton spoofed the genre with his comedy Mars Attacks! (1996) featuring an all-star cast including Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close and Annette Bening.

Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars (2000), starred Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins in an altogether more serious story of a mysterious storm devastating a manned mission to the planet.

Mission to Mars
Mission to Mars showed an attempt to land on the planet
The same year Red Planet, directed by Antony Hoffman, starred Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss as part of a team of US astronauts fighting among themselves on board a spacecraft bound the planet.

In 2002 British artist Damien Hirst revealed that one of his famous spot paintings would be used as a special instrument calibration chart on board the UK's Mars-bound Beagle 2 spacecraft.

Rock band Blur programmed a piece of music for the flight. The aim was for the track to act as a call sign if Beagle 2 reached the surface.

Probably the most famous rock song to name check the theme is David Bowie's Life On Mars? which first appeared on his 1971 album Hunky Dory.

In classical music, Mars The Bringer of War formed the thundering opening salvo of Gustav Holst's celebrated Planets Suite. The movement has featured in several ads and was a major influence on the soundtrack to Star Wars.

Finally, no such list would be complete without a mention of one of the modern era's best-selling relationship books - John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

Bush proposal to send man to Mars
09 Jan 04  |  Science/Nature


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