The Martian – Review
Those who know me well, know when it comes to movies a film Director can carry as much weight and credibility for me as any particular actor that I may enjoy. And while some of my favorite Directors can be easily recognizable by the simple pronunciation of their last names such as Spielberg and Scorsese, i.e. others have more generic sounding names like Mann and Scott. In this case I am speaking of Sir Ridley Scott, an English film director and producer, who in only his second film achieved commercial and critical breakthrough success with the landmark science-fiction horror film “Alien” (1979) starring Sigourney Weaver.
Since that initial effort Scott has successfully gone on to pad his directing resume with other well-known works such as the future science fiction story Blade Runner (1982), the woman - buddy road trip effort Thelma & Louise (1991), the historical drama Gladiator (2000) which won a Best Picture Oscar, the war film Black Hawk Down (2001), the crime thriller Hannibal (2001), the black comedy Matchstick Men (2003),the biographical crime film American Gangster (2007), the adventure film Robin Hood (2010) and the science fiction film Prometheus (2012). I enjoyed them all immensely.
Now, I listed some of his films only to set the table for an irrefutable fact about me; when Sir Ridley Scott makes a film no matter collectively if the reviews are great (Alien) or bad (The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings), I will still go see his films to judge for myself. So, when I heard Scott was directing another science fiction film titled “The Martian” my entertainment antennas went up with much anticipation.
“The Martian”, starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover, tells essentially a contemporary in the not too distant future story of a 4 year (round trip) manned space mission to Mars, where a crew of 6 astronauts who have landed on Mars at an established working station. Un-expectantly they have to leave Mars quickly after a wind storm incident occurs and where also it is presumed during the storm Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is killed. Thinking the worse his crew leaves him behind. But Watney was not killed and manages to survive the storm, but finds himself completely stranded, alone, without any food or readily accessible water (well until this week’s news) on a hostile planet where Watney states “nothing ever grows”.
So, with only very limited supplies to last a few days, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Meanwhile, millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring "The Martian" home, while his space crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission against extraordinary odds.
PROS: First watching “The Martian” in 3-D was amazing, largely because since none of us have been to Mars nor will we ever, everything in the film captures your “mind’s eye” attention with a great deal more of wonder, authenticity and mystery to your subconscious where you may find yourself asking, “So this is what it’s like to be on Mars”.
But the larger question you may ask is, was the movie any good? Yes, it’s very good, probably Scott's best work in a while. However, what may surprise you is how un-Scott science fiction this film is. His previous works always had a rather dreary and slightly unhinged view of the future and space where monsters are always lurking just around the corner. Here in “The Martian”, there is no such creepiness, in fact for its 2 hours 14 minute running time it is very funny, self-deprecating, whimsical and “cheeky” (a British expression to describe being impudent or irreverent in an endearing or amusing way).
The most noticeable aspects of this film for me were the themes of how cool science is and can be, as well as the theme of the human spirit to survive. Just like Tom Hanks in “Castaway”, as a species, some of us may not vote in every election, some of us may not pay our taxes on time, some of us are prone to cheat in our relationships and some of us find humor in the oddest things, but the one quality that we all share; that exist in all of us is the innate will to survive, which would include mixing up water and mud to eat if it meant easing out desire for food and hunger.
CONS: Just a few moments of mawkishly sentimentality and corniness with the cast at NASA, but nothing to detract from the overall quality of the film.
CONCLUSION: So let’s be real here now folks. Do you really actually think they would spend a $108 million budget to make this movie for you to go see a story where in the end Matt Damon’s character would be left on Mars to die a horrible agonizing emaciated excruciating death? Come oooooooon now, this is not a spoiler, but you know he does not die going into the theater. Therefore, the only operative and pertinent questions that remain are how much clever “touch and go” perilous hell will Astronaut Watney have to go through does the film’s story, directing, acting and screenplay genuinely offer up to us? Will it be effective overall as a believable drama with appetizing thrills to get you to its obvious hopeful joyous conclusion?
With a little something for everyone to chew on from the science fiction geeks, the adventurer fan and the Matt Damon fan, “The Martian” takes you on this space journey with inviting fun, wonderment and surprising excitement. It also offers along the way some very smart discussions involving the applications of math, smart user friendly conversations on physics, smart discussions about agriculture and botany, smart dialog about space exploration and overall just plain smart old fashion human ingenuity and hands on know-how.
“The Martian” is a bit of a throwback old fashion classic Saturday “popcorn film” where just like Captain Kirk who “never liked to lose” while saving the universe, John Wayne always “saved the west” and earlier James Bond films where he always got out of deadly predicaments while “saving the world” too. Like all of these movie characters, you don’t go in worrying if this is the day John Wayne gets shot off his horse. Noooooooooooo. You go to be entertained in what you hope is a good story with good intrigue. Director Scott delivers on both points of a really good movie, where everyone in “The Martian” is likeable, have some light hearted fun with each other, and have genuine team comradery and unity. But the star of the film is Matt Damon and as usual he delivers terrifically a character that is equal parts very smart, occasionally corny and in the end someone you never tire of simply rooting for.
“The Martian” is something definitely worth seeing on the big screen (3-D), worth telling friends to see and maybe even seeing twice. But the films strength is weaving a solid enough adventure story for all of us day dreaming want-a be fearless “Captain Kirk-ers”, minus the faster than light space ship and all of us ingenious want-a be “MacGyver-ers”, minus turning a carrot into a communication device. It is visually stunningly to see and experience where the movie goer gets the rare close encounter satisfaction of having the experience of “boldly going where none of us will ever have the chance to go”…………..Mars.
3 – 3/4 Stars