GOOD MORNING: This is what Mars is really like, as described to me by someone who is there. Gary Sinise was long-distancing from the surface of Mars — as created in the Vancouver, B.C., suburb of Richmond. Sinise, limited to NASA’s terra firma on “Apollo 13,” says, “This time, I go on the rescue mission, to recover Don Cheadle, the first man to walk on Mars.” This “Mission to Mars,” a Disney feature directed by Brian De Palma, is due to complete principal photography by the end of October for release in March; the pic is eight days ahead of sked. (Sinise worked with De Palma on “Snake Eyes.” “On that one we were 10 days ahead of schedule!”) “This is an amazing movie,” reports the actor. “They’ve built the surface of Mars on a 45-acre sand dune, with 2 million square feet turned into the red planet with 15,000 gallons of paint — everything is red.” In the story, Sinise and Tim Robbins head to Mars to rescue Cheadle, after some of his crew members have been wiped out. And not by alien creatures … Sinise says they work in zero-gravity-like conditions — on wires. “It’s very physical — and very exciting.” NASA has been participating all the way, he said, on helping the film team show “what a journey would be like; it’s a reality that just needs funding to develop to get there. It would take six months to get there — remain eight-10 months — and six months to return. This is not a fantasy.” But why go to Mars? “It’s man’s nature to explore and we believe Mars has a real relationship to man. The canyons, which look like Grand Canyon, could have sustained life.” Does the movie show life on Mars? “There are all kinds of things we could find there,” he side-stepped. “This is an adventure movie, and a great part for me.”

BACK TO EARTH and out to sea with “Lakeboat,” David Mamet’s play that’s being converted to a film for first-time feature director Joe Mantegna. I located him on Lake Ontario, aboard a 700-foot freighter, the film site for the multi-star pic. Aboard the ship, they were celebrating the birthday of Peter Falk, one of the ensemble cast of Mantegna’s friends including Robert Forster, Charles Durning, J.J. Johnstone, Denis Leary and George Wendt. “It is a big thrill to work with one’s friends,” he admits. And he is bringing it in for “under $5 million.” It is the fifth Mamet pic in which Mantegna has appeared, as well as having directed “Lakeboat” on stage at L.A.’s Tiffany. He’s seen in front of the cameras in Barry Levinson’s “Liberty Heights” as well as A&E’s “Thin Air” … It is ironic that Kevin Spacey’s teenage lure in “American Beauty,” Mena Suvari, plays porn king Bob Loggia’s daughter in “Live Virgin.” Loggia recalls the pic, also costarring Bob Hoskins and Sally Kellerman, bowed in Cannes a year ago and went nowhere. But Loggia has the greatest praise for young Suvari, who plays “the biggest porn star ever” despite her youth — and her father! Loggia assured me that there is no explicit sex or nudity by young Suvari, whose final scene with Spacey in “Beauty” is one of the most touching in the sensaysh movie. Loggia, who will be 70 on his next birthday, continues busy as ever, with “All Over Again,” “The Alibi Store” and “Return to Me.”

THE APPLAUSE WAS STILL RINGING in Lorne Michaels’ “SNL” office, Monday afternoon, when Jerry Seinfeld walked in to start preparations to host the 26th-season kickoff, Saturday. David Bowie is musical guest. (Heather Graham hosts the second week’s show.) The 25th anni “SNL” show was terrif, a happy mix of mirth and memories, live and on tape. Notably absent from the live segs was Eddie Murphy. Michaels philosophically told me, “He didn’t make the 15th either. Maybe he’ll make the 50th.” The party following Sunday’s telecast went on until almost 4 ayem in the Rockefeller Plaza’s Rainbow Room with the cast and black-tied celeb guests partying and performing — like Microsoft’s Paul Allen, on guitar, and Dan Aykroyd duetting. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones continued to furnish footage for fotogs, after their joint birthday party the previous night at “One51″ … Meanwhile, in L.A., over 400 showed to help Morton’s proprietess Pam Morton celebrate the eatery’s 20th anni Sunday night … “The Pink Panther” and Blake Edwards celebrate their 35th anni today in concrete at Mann’s Chinese, with “Panther” alums Bob Wagner, Richard Mulligan and Harvey Korman on hand … The BevHills Hotel’s Svend Petersen is celebrating his 40th year as “Poolside Prince of the Pink Lady.” Ah, the tales he could tell (but won’t) about what’s gone on (in) the cabanas would make a mermaid blush … The BevHills hotel’s New Year’s Eve Millennium party (from 7:30 until ?) is only $500 per person … The hotel’s also the site (Oct. 27) for a grand launch party for QVC’s Oct. 31 4-8 p.m. “Live from Beverly Hills” (as they had “Live in Fifth” from N.Y.) with participating stores: Carroll & Co., Tova, Vidal Sassoon, Counter Spy Shop, Fleur de Lis, Green House Spa, etc. Plus commentaries on BevHills landmarks by Merv Griffin, E!’s Brenda Cooper, yours truly and Concetta Tomei (“Providence”) to raise money for Pediatric AIDS via a special ornament from Geary’s.

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