Besides, everyone today knows that there is no life on Mars, could never be life on Mars, thus destroying the premise of the movie from the outset. And since most of the potential movie-going audience had no preconceived notions of the source material, and had no treasured memories of being swept up by the narrative, most of the audience ended up at sea — caught between wanting to suspend belief and their own realistic assumptions about Mars. In the end, how could you ignore what your own eyes have shown you about the Red Planet? We’ve had rovers exploring the surface of Mars for more than a decade.
But that’s the way verisimilitude works. It says, “Ok, we’re going to do this one crazy thing that we both know ain’t real. Just go with it, and we’ll have fun.” Really good fantasy and sci-fi then goes with that one change and follows through on the rational consequences: Han Solo can tell the difference in the sound of lazer blasts from asteroid collisions, James Bond needs a car that can transform into a submarine, and John Carter enjoys incredible strength and the ability to leap over tall tharks in a single bound while on Mars.
People watching Heroes had no trouble with accepting the idea of ordinary people being imbued with super powers. Those who enjoyed Lost didn’t nit-pick over all the insane crazy things that happened on the island, even when no explanation was quickly offered. Heck, that was almost certainly one of the big draws for the viewership (ditto X-Files). Modern audiences are well acquainted with the bargain of verisimilitude. You can tell when it’s being used poorly (Avatar - link NSFW) and even then lots of folks will give it a pass.
Photo by Arian Zweger.