2015, PG-13, 141 mins.
2015, PG-13, 141 mins.
Matt Damon as Mark Watney / Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis / Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen / Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders / Chiwetel Ejiofor as Venkat Kapoor / Michael Peña as Rick Martinez / Aksel Hennie as Alex Vogel / Sebastian Stan as Chris Beck / Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose / Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson / Donald Glover as Rich Purnel / Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park / Naomi Scott as Ryoko
Directed by Ridley Scott / Written by Drew Goddard, based on the novel by Andy Weir
Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN - based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir - represents something so decidedly rare in our current cinematic climate:
A science fiction film that puts the science back into the genre.
film is a love ballad to scientific MacGyverism in the manner that it
stresses the importance of using math, physics, botany, chemistry and
other disciplines to solve incalculably large and exceedingly dangerous
problems. On a basic level,
THE MARTIAN is about an astronaut stranded on the red planet without a
hope in hell of rescue or survival, but the manner that the film champions
its main character as one whom must summon up all intestinal fortitude and
use a courageous amount of mental ingenuity is the main selling
point. In an age when sci-fi
thrillers offer up cookie cutter action and perfunctory visual effects,
it’s ultimately reinvigorating to see Scott – well known for being a
consummate technical filmmaker – underscore the humanity and the spirit
of resourcefulness in his genre effort.
have been many films – far too many worth mentioning here – that have
dealt with Mars in some form or another.
THE MARTIAN is as masterful as they come at relaying the
awe-inspiring majesty of the distant world while evoking it as a supremely
inhospitable and hazardous place for maintaining human life.
There’s rarely a moment in the film when you don’t feel like
you are actually on Mars. Yet,
Scott has other tricks up his sleeve in THE MARTIAN beyond delivering a
state-of-the-art 3D epic utilizing the finest visual effects available.
He's sort of taking a sabbatical from his normal aesthetic
eccentricities here and instead seems to be honing in more on the inherent
tension of what it would be like for a man to be millions of miles away
from home with no potential rescue in sight.
The genius of Scott’s approach here is in how it’s more
intimate and introspective with its handling of its marooned character;
he’s not really compelled by the “wow!” factor of presenting a
visually potent space odyssey. THE
MARTIAN is about celebrating the indomitable human spirit, which is
supremely driven home by Matt Damon’s thanklessly layered performance.
plays astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist that, alongside his crew –
Captain Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), pilot Rick Martinez (Michael
Pena), chemist Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie), and specialists Beth Johanssen
Mara) and Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan) – are tasked with exploring Mars
as part of the Ares 3 mission. The
film doesn’t waste time with unnecessary exposition or introductions (no
time period is given, but it's assumed to be the near future) and opts to just
thrust viewers right into a normal day of their mission on the planet’s
surface. A rather large storm
approaches their base of operations that threatens to destroy it, which
leads to the captain making the difficult choice to abandon the mission
and blast off back into orbit to save themselves.
In the process, Mark is separated from his party when struck by a
large piece of debris, leaving his fellow astronauts believing him to be
dead. Rather reluctantly, the
captain decides to take off without engaging in a search for his body, seeing
as any more time spent on the planet could potentially kill all of the
crew. News of this disaster hits home, leaving NASA director Teddy
Sanders (the unflappable Jeff Daniels) and mission director Vincent Kapoor
having to break the news of Matt’s death to the world back home.
the thing, though: Mark, rather impossibly, survived his battle with the
storm. Although severely
injured, he manages to make it back safely to his base to treat his
wounds. Very soon, he comes
to realize the sheer enormity of his situation: he’s all alone on an
alien planet nearly a quarter of a billion miles away from home, with
limited provisions, next to no available communications available to him
to chat with those back on Earth, and with a small food supply. Understanding that he must find some way to relay his
survival back to Earth (which could take time), Mark decides that he will need to find some
way to feed himself while waiting for a rescue mission to be launched,
which could take not months, but years to mount considering existing
technology. Through some
remarkably quick wits – and a lot of luck – Mark is able to let NASA
know that he is indeed alive, but he then must pull out every bit of
botanical skill he can to grow and cultivate food on Mars in order to live
during the long wait for a rescue party.
Damon essentially has to perform throughout most of the film...by himself. What’s most compelling, though, about his work here is that
he never plays Mark as a hopeless victim.
Certainly, Damon conveys the whirlwind of conflicting emotions that
Mark is definitely going through when placed in his predicament – fear,
anger, loneliness, and despair – but he also manages to show how the
character uses a sly sense of humor as a coping mechanism to deal with the
horrendous dilemma of being stranded on Mars and starving to death.
Rather brilliantly, the film allows Mark the opportunity to record
daily mission logs that capture his daily thoughts and confessionals while
trying to find a scientific manner of staying alive, which frequently
becomes THE MARTIAN’s source of huge laughs.
Mark’s usage of gallows humor really makes this one of Scott’s
most relaxed and surprisingly amusing films in quite some time.
Despite all odds pointing towards his death, Mark remains a beacon
of positive hope and gritty perseverance.
never once gives in and tosses in the towel, so to speak: he pools up
every amount of scientific knowledge he can to find highly unusual
solutions to his main problems of a sustainable food source that will last
him indefinitely. So, of
course, this leads to him building his own makeshift potato farm using
manufactured moisture and – yuck! – the other astronauts' feces to grow
them in the protected Martian soil within his base.
He also takes chances, like digging up radioactive material to
generate heat so he doesn’t freeze to death.
In one remarkably bold move, he even drives several hundred kilometers
in his rover to locate and dig up decades old tech that was sent to Mars
previously in hopes of establishing some crude and makeshift communication
device to let Earth know that he’s okay.
If anything, part of the limitlessly intoxicating allure of THE
MARTIAN is in experiencing each new startling solution that Mark dreams up
– using nothing but his keen intellect and guts – to ensure his
survival. Despite the
inherent darkness of the film’s premise, it ultimately becomes a
powerful valentine to scientific inquiry, know-how and the sheer audacity
of trying anything to conquer hopeless circumstances.
not to say that THE MARTIAN is all rosy.
Mark’s drive to keep himself alive while waiting for another NASA
party to land is beset with multiple problems, each one taking a taxing
toil on his very sanity. Much
like CASTAWAY and TOUCHING THE VOID, THE MARTIAN captures the
psychological damage that isolation – and the thought that no hope may
be in sight – has on the human body and spirit.
Scott’s visual style, again, is never too obtrusively showy; he
uses a bravura combination of location shooting and magnificent visual effects to
make Mark’s seclusion feel eerily authentic.
Most crucially, Scott understands that drowning the film with too
much visual dynamism would subvert the core drama and the
power of Damon’s remarkable performance.
THE MARTIAN, perhaps better than any recent film, uses visual effects to
compliment the story and enhance the experience of watching the film…and
not the other way around. It
should be also noted too that the screenplay (by THE
CABIN IN THE WOODS scribe
Drew Goddard) also creates tension back on Earth.
The film never shies away from the thorny ethical quandaries that
NASA experiences and must fight through in order to save Mark.
The biggest battle that Mark’s companions have back home is not
in deciding whether or not they should go back and save him, but rather…if they
can…and before he dies. THE
MARTIAN highlights the monumental undertaking that space travel
entails, which involves – much like Mark's survival efforts on Mars – a whole lot of
race-against-the-clock creative problem solving.
In the end, I guess that the one thing that so thoroughly won me over to THE MARTIAN is that it’s a science fiction film with two borderline extinct traits: brains and heart. So many genre examples over the years go out of their way to portray the future as grim post-apocalyptic nightmares, which makes singular examples like THE MARTIAN – steeped in hope – so manifestly invigorating. Scott has lovingly crafted a sci-fi opus that mainstream Hollywood can’t seem to conjure up with any real assurance or confidence anymore: a technically astounding, intelligently rendered, dramatically grounded, intensely gripping, and unexpectedly comical large scale adventure/survival film. The overall narrative of THE MARTIAN may be, by some critics’ complaints, relatively straightforward and simple, but it’s the sheer execution of said story that separates Scott’s film well apart from the pack.
And how great is it to see a science fiction film that has scientists as the heroes?