The Martian

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I was really psyched for this movie. I was bringing a friend with me that knew author Andy Weir from college. I heard Weir talking about his best-seller in an interview on NPR and his enthusiasm was infectious. Even when he talked about the few flaws in the science, one of which he knew about but it made for a better story (the sandstorm that initially reeks havoc on the crew in the beginning of the film)…I was on board.

NASA tried to be a buzz kill by saying some of these things wouldn’t happen. Weird that they felt the need to comment.

The big news a few days before The Martian was released, we heard about the discovery of water on Mars. You can’t ask for better marketing.

It was a two and a half hour movie that seemed longer because of the malfunctions at the screening. We had to wait an hour for it to start. That could’ve added to me feeling like everything was overlong in the film.

The cast of the movie was perfect, except for Matt Damon. He is fine as the stranded astronaut. He can pull off humor, boyishness, intelligence, and also vulnerability. The problem you’ll have is that he was just a stranded astronaut in Interstellar. And, he was the soldier that the military was trying to rescue in Saving Private Ryan. How do we not think about those roles? Had we not had those previous movies, perhaps this would warrant the praise it’s already getting. That’s not even taking into account that the Oscar nominated Gravity pops into your mind, too.

Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist on an American mission to the red planet. There’s a sandstorm that has the crew evacuate sooner then expected. Watney gets hit by flying debris, and they leave him behind. He goes all Prometheus (another Ridley Scott film), and stitches himself up. It looks like he’ll heal fine, but now he has a bigger dilemma. How does he live on a planet with a limited supply of food?

Watney does a video diary, which works out nicely. It helps with expository dialogue the audience needs, and we can see how it probably helps with his sanity. Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball, Damon is using a video camera. The humor we get from the character works, but it creates another problem. It takes away from the drama of such a harrowing situation.

It is fun to see him “science the sh** out” out of things. He creates water from rocket fuel, and grows potatoes using the waste from his fellow crew members.

The crew that left him behind is solid (no pun intended). I’ve yet to see a part Michael Pena plays where he’s not perfectly cast. He was one of the few enjoyable things about Ant-Man.

Jessica Chastain, who seems to do an Oscar worthy performance each year, is the captain. She feels guilty for leaving Watney behind.

Chiwetel Eliofor, always a powerful and authoritative figure on screen, works for NASA and is trying to come up with ways to rescue Watney. Jeff Daniels is his boss, and he’s less inclined to want to rescue Watney. It’s refreshing that the script didn’t make his character evil. He’s thinking of more lives that can be lost in trying to retrieve one man, and the PR nightmare that could be. I just wondered why he never brings up the cost. Surely a mission to rescue Watney would be billions, right?

It would’ve been nice to learn more about the characters personal lives. It’s strange because, in Gravity I complained about us learning Sandra Bullock’s character had lost a child. It felt tacked on to illicit sympathy and add to the story. Yet in this, I was wondering about Watney. Did he have a wife and kids? He does leave a message to his parents, so they’re still alive. We know he hates disco, or at least…he jokes about hating it, to add to the humor. The disco soundtrack does provide some fun moments. How can you not laugh when you hear “I Will Survive,” with the line “You just walked in from outer space” or “Hot Stuff” when he’s strutting around Mars. The film gets extra credit for using David Bowie’s “Starman” instead of the more popular “Space Oddity.”

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of movies that are visually stunning, but the story is weak. This falls into that category, and you could make the argument that the visuals aren’t as stunning as they should be. In space they are, but not the scenes on Mars. The landscapes weren’t that interesting, and the 3-D was unnecessary, sometimes creating images that were darker than they should’ve been.

I thought about how much I loved the movie Capricorn One as a kid. It’s a simple story about NASA faking a moon landing, and deciding to kill the astronauts involved so they don’t spill the beans. It had no special effects and was a blast.

The exposition works sometimes, but it got to a point where we’re overloaded with science. They needed more drama, less science. Give us compelling moments, since we never once worry, or wonder, if he’ll make it out alive.

I felt the film could’ve taken out one or two of the many applause scenes we got from NASA. There could’ve been fewer scenes with somebody typing a message to somebody, and reading out what they’re writing (so the audience knows). Nothing takes you out of the movie like realizing characters are doing things strictly for our benefit.

If I learned two things from this movie: always have enough ketchup for the potatoes you’ll be consuming, and always stay stocked up with duct tape. You could repair anything with that stuff.

Since the movie is getting over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s probably something you shouldn’t miss.

I was less thrilled by it. Director Ridley Scott gave us great movies like Thelma & Louise, Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and hey…I had fun with Prometheus a few years ago. I also remember a few years ago, he gave us one of the worst movies that year – The Counselor. I remember one periodical did a story about that being the worst movie ever made.

This will be on a few critics lists for the best of the year. It isn’t even on my Top 25, but I’m giving it 2 ½ stars out of 5.

2 comments

  • Wendy D. Graves

    Interesting article about this film in this month’s issue of Good Housekeeping. According to Jim Green, Ph.D, who is the head of planetary science at NASA, he doesn’t think this film is too far~fetched compared to some other science fiction films already out there.
    For instance, in regards to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” (1977) he believes that before aliens could possibly arrive here on Planet Earth, they would initially send the spaceship first before they decided to grace us mere mortals w/their presence. I guess he is basically saying that aliens are not only responsible, they also are very organized and spend a lot of time planning things out. (I really need a life coach now, but don’t know if I can wait until 2030 or so!)
    Also regarding the classic movie “E.T,” (1982) he concedes that while complex beings like E.T. could in fact exist, there is no way that they can fly a spaceship in “that” matter. Oh I get it…He must be referring to the famous flying bicycle scene. I can vouch that it can actually be done…I did it back in Summer of ’69….umm….Rather ’99 at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Oh wait…*cough cough*….I am not an Extra~Terrestrial even though I do admit to purchasing huge buckets of Reese’s Pieces every month at Costco.
    Fun Fact: —–> Originally Steven Spielberg wanted E.T. to eat M&M’s in the film, however Mars, Inc. (no relation known) didn’t want to associate themselves w/such a film. Biggest. Fail. Ever. In history.

    Though I know personally that the writer of this review prefers M&M’s himself.

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