DIRECTED BY: Ridley Scott
WRITTEN BY: Drew Goddard (screenplay); Based on the novel by Andy Weir
PEW PEW: If you’re an action-only kind of person, your attention might wander. The climax is thrillingly suspenseful.
CAT FOOD: The story is very human, with helpings of isolated frustration and triumphant displays of will, friendship, and cooperation between international agencies.
I must say, it’s terrible that it felt like such work for me to build up enough desire to see this film. Did the film present badly in trailers and other promotional materials? Not at all. The reason I was so reluctant might come as a bit of a surprise for those of you who know how much of a Blade Runner and Alien enthusiast I am. Ridley Scott was actually the reason I didn’t want to have anything to do with The Martian.
Let’s set the record straight here, I believe Mr. Scott is one of the most talented directors of all time… with a great deal of enthusiasm, I underscore that last line. Very few directors are capable of achieving what Ridley Scott can in terms of style, feel, pacing, and outright storytelling. I have felt, however, that lately the man has grown out of the style that suits me best and has, like most humans do, undergone a personal evolution.
Sixteen years ago was the last time I was as excited after a Scott film (Gladiator) as I was before seeing it. I rather enjoyed Matchstick Men a few years later, but the rest have been pretty much a wash for me. As a huge fan of the Alien film franchise, I was naturally all but peeing myself in anticipation for Prometheus, a prequel to said franchise. The colossal let down that film turned out to be really soured me on Ridley Scott, I can’t lie. And then the announcement that he was perhaps going to do the same to my beloved Blade Runner…
But The Martian is by all means one of those movies even the most reluctant should see. It’s a shockingly good adaptation of a very bold science fiction novel. In this day and age, science fiction has very much allowed its fantasy side to rule the kingdom, with more Edgar Rice Burroughs-style sagas going on than stories with Isaac Asimov-style functionality. The novel, by Andy Weir, that this film is based on was heavily researched and painstakingly made to make use of actual science. This alone would make it something to be admired, even without the incredibly strong human-driven narrative.
Set in a very near future, The Martian begins when a manned mission to Mars is threatened by a violent storm and the crew abort the mission and depart from the surface of the planet. Unfortunately, Mark Watney is struck by debris during the escape, leading his crew mates to believe that he has died. Stranded on the planet surface with no contact with anyone, Watney stubbornly fights to survive against insurmountable odds.
Ridley Scott pulled no punches bringing the story to life. It gets right to the point and remains remarkably faithful. There has been discussion about a few things that stretch the science of the thing (the power of the dust storm in particular), but considering the enjoyability of Star Wars in spite of its extremely dubious science, we can afford to forgive The Martian its minor faults.
At the heart of the story is Matt Damon’s ace performance as Watney. It’s hands down the highlight of the film for me. With so many scenes alone with just us and him, the actor helps provide a playful and very realistic viewing experience. It reminds me of how well Tom Hanks deftly manned a similar situation in Cast Away. It’s a really serious situation, but there’s this air of comedy to it that lends it a glowing charm. Better yet, it’s entirely missing the horribly depressing angle Cast Away played. Really, the film could have been quite bleak, but because we ride the coaster with a very positive and upbeat lead holding our hand, it’s the kind of warming you just don’t normally see in a picture like this. No one dies.
NOT EVEN SEAN BEAN!
The extended cast, on Earth and in the stars, is marvelous as well. Jessica Chastain is strong and respectable in her role as captain, Kate Mara is as talented as she is adorable, and Michael Peña is always hilarious.
Other high points include beautiful cinematography and an all around gorgeous aesthetic. The sights and the sounds (even the hauntingly isolated beacons that sound when the Sol number flashes on the screen is incredible).
My one and only gripe is that the film is a little too long. I’m not really certain any film needs to clear the two hour mark (there are notable exceptions, as we have discussed before) and the pacing does lag in spots. Because of the way the film works, with heavy science being discussed that might slingshot straight over the heads of a lot of viewers, it’s hard to know just how far along you are in the film — leading of course to “it’s been a long time, it feels like it should be over in the next ten or fifteen minutes, but it seems like a lot of stuff has to happen still.” That being said, once the climax hits, you certainly know it. The Martian’s is one of the most thrilling climaxes I have seen in a film of its type.
— Even though some readers may groan about a certain Marvel movie reference.
So The Martian is a damn fine science fiction film, with more drama, neat survival strategies, and genuine humour than you can shake a stick at. Ridley Scott recaptures exactly what made Blade Runner and Alien so friggin beautiful and he deserves nothing but praise for what he’s done here.
And for the record, I fucking love disco.