The Martian

Release: Friday, October 2, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Drew Goddard 

Directed by: Ridley Scott

The Martian is made of the same cosmic stuff that turned Ridley Scott into a household name. His latest is an instant classic sci fi epic about mankind’s place in the bigger galactic picture. If Interstellar was a humbling experience insofar as it confirmed that yes, the universe is . . . big, The Martian makes it far more personal, stressing just how fragile we are in a place we don’t really belong.

While the scale of this journey doesn’t encompass quite as vast a distance — Mars is a mere 34 million miles away as opposed to the untold thousands of light years Matthew McConaughey et al covered in search of another Earth-like planet — The Martian mounts a fascinating and thoroughly convincing case arguing what could happen if we ever choose to visit our nearest planetary neighbor. Credit where credit is due, of course: Scott adapted his film from the 2011 Andy Weir novel of the same name, relying on strong, contemporary source material to tell a profoundly human story rather than resorting to centuries-old documents that threaten plagues and the end of civilization, or stories that are better left on paper.

I don’t know if it’s just the thrill of seeing a once-great director returning to form after a few unsuccessful (to say the least) outings, or whether The Martian is just this good, but October has all of a sudden become exciting. I’d like to think it’s a bit of both, the buzz intensifying in the looming shadow of this season’s scheduled releases. I know it’s fall, but love (for cinema) is in the air.

The Martian tells the inspiring story — one so polished it actually takes more effort to dismiss as entirely fictional — of American astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon, third in line behind Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and Russell Crowe’s Maximus in terms of greatest characters Scott’s had to work with) who becomes marooned on the Red Planet after a severe storm forces the crew of the Ares III to abandon their mission. Not realizing he is still alive after being struck violently with some debris and tossed from the launch site, the remaining crew — comprised of Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and cadets Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) — escape the planet’s wind-swept surface and prepare for the four-year journey back to Earth.

It’s Cast Away in space, only this island is capable of producing greater anxiety than any spit of land on Earth ever could. To make matters worse there’s no Wilson, but Damon’s Watney, despite an affinity for talking to himself via web cam, doesn’t strike you as the sort who always needs someone around to talk to, even in the face of protracted isolation. Instead of striking up a relationship with an inanimate object Watney sets about working his problem logically and with a sense of humor that’s almost unfathomable considering the circumstances. As a result, we get one of the year’s most uplifting movies, with Scott opting to take the detour around dourness by stranding his not-so-helpless protagonist in an endless sea of despair and self-pity, though no one would blame Scott if he had.

I’m sure conspiracy theorists have been having a field day with this film, suggesting the fact that there was some sort of clause in Scott’s contract stipulating the distinct tonal change; a precautionary measure taken to distinguish the plight of Mark Watney from that of Ellen Ripley and to ensure that no wormhole-traveling between films would result. In all likelihood, Scott’s adaptation is nothing more than a faithful adaptation of the source material, and if that’s the case then The Martian has jumped high up on my list of books I must soon read (a list that is embarrassingly short, I have to say). Even if this film will never actually tie into the Alien universe, it suggests that perhaps Scott feels most at home when he leaves ours behind.

The Martian focuses more heavily on the work of our fearless astronaut as he sets about trying to establish his food rations, quickly deducing that it will be impossible to make his supplies last for over 400 days. Putting his botanist background to good use, Watney begins growing a crop of potatoes in the confines of the protective HAB, MacGyvering a water filtration system out of literally thin air. Indeed, he’ll be getting more than his daily fiber intake over the next few years. (Hopefully he’ll have enough ketchup to last.) Periodically we cut back to Houston, where Jeff Daniels’ Teddy Sanders, the head honcho of NASA, Mission Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig), a NASA spokesperson, have little else to do besides look on and wonder firstly how the hell Watney has survived and secondly whether retrieving him is a viable option.

Sean Bean is also in as Mitch Henderson, whose supervision of the crew serves as a stark contrast to Sanders’ colder, more stern and conservative methods. And then of course there’s the brainiest of them all in astrodynamicist Rich Purnell (Donald Glover), who lends valuable insight into how best to safely retrieve Watney. These earthbound characters don’t fair quite as well in terms of allotted screen time but given what they have to work with, all deliver impressive work and each help lend gravity to the developments, if you’ll pardon the pun. (If you don’t, then . . . well, fine . . . I guess it’s over between us.) Long faces and variations on looking exasperated constitute the bulk of these performances, but that doesn’t mean Scott’s misjudged their talents by saddling them with less showy roles.

Even so, this is the Matt Damon show. He may have been better as something else in the past (what role hasn’t this guy tried on for size?) but right now I’m coming up short. A botanist and self-proclaimed space pirate, Watney is a breath of fresh air, his morale-boosting video diaries marking a totally unexpected departure tonally from what we might have expected out of a story about being the first man stranded on Mars. These entries not only manifest as glimpses into the science behind space exploration, but they help advance the narrative as the weeks and months go by, revealing a timeline marked by their ‘sol’ number.

Of course it’s not a complete review until I mention how exquisite the cinematography is. I feel obligated to talk about it this time because, as overwhelming as it often is — the Martian landscape looks a little like Monument Valley (it was actually filmed in Jordan and Hungary) but there’s enough free play in the digital composition to make it look entirely authentic — the visuals (brought to you by Dariusz Wolski) aren’t at the heart of the film. Bless you, Ridley, for you only recently released a film that epitomized style over substance. On that basis alone (the basis of avoiding repeating history), The Martian deserves praise. Still, given the sleek spacecrafts, high tech gizmos and Martian sunsets that bleed dark purple, this movie is as stylish as anything that’s been released this year. It’s a beautiful, sometimes haunting spectacle that reveres the alien world and offers endlessly entertaining and optimistic commentary on the future of our cosmic endeavors.

Recommendation: This isn’t the only place you’ll read the words ‘a return to form for Ridley Scott.’ Before actually knowing what this movie was like I was kind of iffy about seeing this, and I wouldn’t have expected to declare this a must-see. But that is what this has become, a must-see for fans of the director, a must-see for the ensemble cast, and a must-see for space nerds like myself who enjoy good stories set in the most atmospheric space imaginable — outer space itself. The Martian is a downright fun movie. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 141 mins. 

Quoted: “F**k you, Mars.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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50 thoughts on “The Martian

  1. Pingback: The Walk | digitalshortbread

  2. Great work here Tom (as if anything else was to be expected)! I saw this over the weekend and while I enjoyed it, I did not love it (seriously, SO much hype on this). It most certainly IS a return to form for Scott, and Damon was absolutely spectacular. I loved watching everything going down on Mars and with Watney, but I was really underwhelmed by the Earth aspect, Rich (what an annoyance), and some of the terribly embarrassing things that happened on Earth. It just didn’t stack up as well as it could have against all the epic going down in space. All that said and done though, this movie is most certainly worth the watch!

    • I see what you’re saying about the events that took place on Earth/at NASA. It all pretty much worked for me but a lot of these roles were very, very limited and could have been given to lesser known stars, that was a bit weird to me. (Kristen Wiig being probably the one who suffered the most from that.) It’s definitely becoming a very hyped movie but in my view i think it’s been worth it b/c the tone that’s taken here is so totally unexpected. It plays more as a comedy with dramatic elements rather than a drama with comedic elements. I’m a real big space geek too though so that may have helped.

      • I am with you on that. I loved the tone of the movie and how it came together, and while I had issues, I still enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as some, but quite a chunk. I am glad to see you were such a fan!

    • Thanks dude, it is indeed exciting seeing the man bounce back after a rough stretch. It’s funny how he hasn’t been into space in some time (I guess only three years), but since he has he’s made yet another great sci fi adventure. I need to now check out Prometheus and see what all the fuss is about.

      • Be warned, my friend. You might not like what you see. Personally, I think it’s pretty okay but I know many who absolutely hate it.
        But best thing is to check it out and decide for yourself

  3. Fine review Tom and some serious high praise. I finally got my review up and we share several thoughts. But I struggled with a few things that left me a tad cautious with putting it among Scott’s best work. Still a fun movie though.

    • That it was my friend, it was a great and fun bit of escapism. Looking back later I might think that the 8/8 is too high but I’m still right now riding the buzz and I’m still in love with this movie. I have never been that big on Matt Damon so to be able to embrace him so effortlessly like this, I think that has helped push the rating up a bit more. I’ll be on by to check out yours!

    • The Martian is an exceptionally fun time at the movies. That’s how it earned the perfect score, and I suppose it helps that the cinematography and the sheer scale of the excursion were epic as well. Just a great movie, Definitely check it out and let me know how your experience goes man!

      • It sure looks really amazing. On another note dude, I’ve been expanding my content on my blog and have featured posts on body acceptance. Would love for you to contribute your thoughts in the comments, look under posts entitled Love Your Bum.

  4. Scott has always been one of my favorite directors and I even find things to like, even in his more mediocre entries. As far as a visual cinematic artist, I feel that he is always in form, but of late his recent films have been getting the cold shoulder (I dont hate Prometheus like most do. I am of the camp that feels it gets hate because it wasn’t what everyone expected. It isnt a really bad movie per se imo), which is ok. Not every film can be Alien, Blade Runner or Gladiator. But as far as The Martian, I’m glad that Scott, Damon and co. are enjoying the much need success both at the BO and critically.

    I am a huge fan of the novel (I have read it twice) and I will definitely swing back to read your review once I’ve seen the movie next week. Thanks man!

    • My pleasure Vic, I can’t wait to read the book. Definitely have it on a Christmas wish list now. 😉

      Yeah I’m with you in regards to how beautiful and well-constructed Scott’s work has been. Even with his less effective films like The Counselor, you can’t deny the art of the thing but there was something lacking story wise that prevented that movie (and a couple others of recent years) from living up to the typically high standards he has set in the past. Still, saying his new movies don’t match up to the likes of Alien, Blade Runner, etc . . . well, that’s just a mighty tall task, isn’t it? haha

    • You should! Haven’t had this much fun in a movie in . . . quite some time. Maybe since The Man from UNCLE

  5. Excellent stuff Tom. Your quote selection at the end there I think really highlights the snappy delight of this film. It’s definitely one of Scott’s best. I’m an unapologetic fan, especially of his sci-fi work, but it’s pretty clear to see given the overwhelmingly positive reaction that this one is a genuine cinematic winner.

    • It’s really winning people over isn’t it? I personally am absolutely high on it and I know much has been said about where it ultimately will stand in the bigger scheme of things, but in my mind there’s no question, it’s one of Scott’s best and most entertaining. It’s uplifting and haunting at the same time. I must read this book!

      Haha yeah that quote is more risky with the language but it’s so telling. It perfectly encapsulates the humor in three words.

  6. I saw this one premiere at TIFF and when Scott introduced it, you could tell he was PROUD of this work, couldn’t wait for us to see it, he knew he’d done good work.

  7. I’d been waiting to read this until I’d seen the film. I enjoyed it, although not as much as you; I don’t think it’s a masterpiece and don’t think it’s up there with Scott’s best. but that said I think we are in agreement about the tone being a welcome surprise! I chuckled quite a few times and hadn’t expected much after seeing the trailer.

  8. Great post mate. I have heard so many good things but my distaste for Matt Damon may ruin (for me) what sounds like a great movie. I also really want to read the book, in fact I reckon I’ll do that before seeing the film. I always prefer to read a book before its movie brother rather than the other way round.

    Excellent analysis as usual mate. Keep up the good work!

  9. Nice review Tom. I’ve pretty much given up on Ridley Scott after how disastrous his recent movies have been but The Martian looks pretty good. I hope to see it this weekend.

  10. “stressing just how fragile we are in a place we don’t really belong.” I’d never thought of it like that before. I’m going to see it again tomorrow so it’s cool to get some fresh insights! Great review Tom, loved it.

    • Cheers James, thanks a bunch for that. Ah damn it I’d love to see this again in theaters. Perhaps I might tomorrow (tuesday) for $6 matinees at the local theater. Too bad the screens are all small and crappy though lol!

      This movie was just great. Def deserves multiple viewings on a big screen. So much fun.

    • Aw, no!!! No extra sadness!!! You have plenty of time to catch up on it, I have a feeling this one will hang around a while in theaters. A real crowd-pleasing bit of sci fi fun this is! I’d love to see your review of it when you get to it

    • Given how dark his movies have been in the past, particularly his space-set ones, this was a nice breath of fresh air. And I loved the central performance. Even the many supporting ones were solid enough.

      You see, Everest — this is how you take care of an ensemble cast! 😉

  11. I guess I’m that one guy that doesn’t want to see the film :]. Great review, but I’ll pass on anything with Matt Damon in it. I can always name a list of actors that can play any role he does, but better.

    • no apologies necessary man, if you don’t like the guy you don’t like the guy! 😀

      I’m not the biggest Damon fan but he’s terrific in this movie, absolutely the best part of it. But I’d understand giving it a miss too. He’s the focal point of the film so its not like you can escape him easily haha

      • I’m going to see it eventually :].

        I guess I know if I like it or not when it comes to Netflix or Cable. I am looking forward to Vin Diesel’s new film. I haven’t decided if I’m seeing it in theaters yet, but it looks interesting to me.

  12. A return to form indeed. Saw this earlier today and loved it. Aside from the pace dropping slightly in the mid section, this was a cracking and rip-roaring yarn that fizzed off the screen thanks to Scott’s great eye when it comes to sci-fi.

    • So, so damn good man. Ridley Scott returns to his roots and we are all rewarded for our patience for this one to drop.

  13. I loved it almost as much as Mad Max and that’s a lot of love! The book was great and the way the movie translated onto screen was almost as great. And it’s ironic, that I hate Prometheus, and love The Martian.. Scott for me is a completely hit and miss director, it seems.

    • Still need to see Prometheus and still have to read this book! Two major checkmarks still to tick off in the coming months! 😀

  14. I loved the book and thought the movie did a great job adapting it into the film. I agree it is one of the best of the year. I never thought I would be so excited for a potato in a movie (or devastated for that matter). So great!

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