Synopsis – During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
My Take – Being a huge fan of director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Prometheus, Kingdom of Heaven) & Matt Damon (The Bourne Trilogy, Oceans Trilogy), I proclaim – put their names on anything & I will watch it! Even though in recent years, Ridley Scott movies have been more on the down side for example films like, Robin Hood, The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings have been disappointments. But since the time I heard about the production of this film based on the novel by Andy Weir, a sense of excitement has stayed inside me & thanks to the positive buzz around the film, the excitement stayed intact. And guess what? As expected, this film is one of the best to come out this year! What Ridley Scott (Director), Drew Goddard (Screenwriter), Andy Weir (Book), and Matt Damon do with this movie is so unconventional and smile inducing, that it may redefine how some movies mix genres. I threw this under the category of Drama, but it wasn’t a drama. I thought of possibly putting it under the comedy or thriller section, but the film is not a comedy or thriller nor is it just a mere mixture of genres to create a new Sci-Fi movie. So what am I trying to say? The film is a mixture of numerous elements that are authentically blended in a way that few movies can attest to. Consequently this makes it significantly harder to put a genre on it, but in this case, I think it’s a good thing. As many people already have stated, I was instantly reminded of the movie “Cast Away“, with Tom Hanks & to some extend ‘Interstellar‘. I loved Cast Away & Interstellar, but I don’t see those film as optimistic journeys. Here, the depressing tones are solved by injecting a bit more humor and action into the film. Rather than Matthew McConaughey & Hanks‘ downbeat characters, Damon‘s character is far more upbeat and involved in his own rescue throughout the entire film. I definitely did not expect the humor that is present throughout the film. Whether it was script-writing, ad-libbing, or a combination of the two, it worked out quite well.
This Ridley Scott film does not mess around with buildup or anything in the way of expository drama; it gets right to the point and recognizes why you came to see it. It opens with Ares III, NASA’s manned mission to Mars, experiencing a treacherous storm upon arriving on the red planet. The story follows botanist / astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Mark is part of the Ares III team also consisting of Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and astronauts Rick Martinez (Michael Pena), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan), and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie). While the Ares III team explores Mars, a blinding particle storm forces them to abort their mission and board their ship. The storm violently separates Mark from the rest of the crew who are forced to leave without him, believing Mark dead. The crew is so convinced he’s dead that when they communicate that fact to NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), he almost immediately arranges an honorary funeral for him. Of course, rumors of Mark’s death are premature. Buried in sand, losing oxygen, and suffering a puncture wound, Mark is nevertheless alive. He manages to struggle back to the still-standing planet base, replenish air, equalize pressure, and treat his wound as best he can. However, the obstacles to his survival are just piling up. Can Mark fight Martian weather, radiation, cold, starvation, dehydration, and boredom at least long enough to somehow contact NASA to let them know he’s alive, and then stay alive even longer for NASA to mount a rescue mission? Meanwhile, back on Earth, Teddy, NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig), and NASA mission directors Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) have their own challenges, both urgent and mundane. Besides naturally getting Mitch home safely, Teddy and his team must negotiate the usual treacherous PR protocol to make sure that Mark’s inadvertent abandonment does not embarrass, discredit, and eventually defund NASA. Headquarters is also struggling with the idea of telling the surviving members of the Ares III mission that Watney is alive, which ignites a fiery ethical side to the film’s story. With that, this film is essentially a gigantic teamwork exercise where everyone feels human, which is a pleasant attribute for Scott, whose recent films have really lacked in the film making craft and humanization elements present in his earlier films. And so the film oscillates among these scenarios and dilemmas and manages, in my opinion, to do it without boring and, if you’ll excuse the expression, alienating the audience. How can a space movie without aliens, laser weapons, or aerial combat hope to do this? I think the film succeeds in this by being more knowledgeable than its audience, but in a way that instructs the audience without talking down to them. The movie explains many astrophysical, mechanical, and chemical concepts (including a crucial “slingshot” maneuver) that help keep the movie going forward and the audience invested in the characters’ fates. It certainly helps that Damon‘s character Mark, in his daily video journal of his ordeals, explains much of this scientific stuff in largely (and often laugh-out-loud profane) layperson’s terms. Scott’s visual effects and grand scale directing usually never fail, but when these become the focus and human characters and the little touches (the science, the cause-and-effect relationships, and the narrative interest) become secondary or gravely shortchanged, then there’s a real issue with his films on a macro level.
The film also makes fairly strong use of its 3D elements, using it as a tool of immersion rather than a gimmick that works to add a surcharge to already high movie ticket prices. Consider the storm scene, which completely floods the screen with indiscernible debris and disarray; the scene is only emphasized with the benefit of 3D and makes the experience that much more horrifying, being that, like the characters, we can barely see a thing. The writing has to be the biggest strength in this whole movie, because it was clever, funny, never lost my attention and it had a fantastic sense of humor to itself. It matched the tone of the movie perfectly! My only flaw in this movie is this 25 minute sequence where it cuts back to earth with the NASA crew talking about different ways of bringing Mark back, but the stuff on Mars was more interesting. I’m not saying it was bad as the earth stuff scene was handled well and it was very well acted, but I was more interested on the stuff that was happening on Mars with Damon‘s character. With its nearly two and a half hour run time, the film remains consistently interesting because it’s a generally optimistic film, surprisingly enough. Watney is a wisecracker a lot of the time, even in the face of certain doom, and seeing NASA’s constant efforts to bring him home show a certain diligence on their behalf works to make this film surprisingly hopeful. Matt Damon is absolutely brilliant here! This is easily his finest role since The Departed. You constantly laugh at his jokes, you are rooting for him to make it home, and you feel for him when he is starting to break down and go through his emotions. Most importantly, you care about his character and because of this, the audience gets sucked right on in for the ride. They become fully committed and invested into what is unfolding before their eyes and what is unfolding is one of the best Sci-Fi films of the year and one of Ridley Scott‘s best work in a long time. Unlike Castaway‘s one-man show, the film boasts a huge cast that surprisingly never becomes over crowded. Besides Damon‘s amazing performance, the film boasts of a loaded cast – Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Micheal Pena, Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor in particular reminds all of us, why he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor ! Every character was likable, even the CEO of NASA (Daniels) who is supposed to be the corporate boss we are all supposed to hate, we end up understanding why he makes the decisions he does throughout, and the film makes us think about what we would do if we had to make the difficult decisions that he is responsible for in his position. On the whole, ‘The Martian’ is a beautifully shot & well acted film which is definitely worth checking out in 3D. The Martian is an absolute must see, without any shadow of doubt, and when you walk out, you will be begging to come back and see it again.
Director – Ridley Scott
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 141 minutes