US Release Date: 10-02-2015
Directed by: Ridley Scott
- Matt Damon, as
- Mark Watney
- Jessica Chastain, as
- Melissa Lewis
- Kristen Wiig, as
- Annie Montrose
- Jeff Daniels, as
- Teddy Sanders
- Michael Pena, as
- Rick Martinez
- Sean Bean, as
- Mitch Henderson
- Kate Mara, as
- Beth Johanssen
- Sebastian Stan, as
- Chris Beck
- Aksel Hennie, as
- Alex Vogel
- Chiwetel Ejiofor, as
- Vincent Kapoor
- Mackenzie Davis, as
- Mindy Park
- Donald Glover as
- Rich Purnell
Matt Damon in The Martian
I have often found it fascinating that we celebrate athletes and action heroes far more than we ever do intellectuals and scientists. Our local high school proudly displayed the names of all of its varsity football players along the road the first week of school, as if they are somehow above the rest of the student body. Would it not make sense for a learning institution to display the names of the students with the highest grades instead of just the boys who signed up for a particular sport? Athletes at the professional level get paid enormous salaries and have girls begging them for sex, while the geniuses of the world rarely even get a mention.
The Martian works as a sort of counter to these notions. It would have us get excited for intellectuals working out scientific problems instead of battling monsters or driving cars through unrealistic stunts. Although there are a few action sequences, this movie is more about the characters using their brains than their brawn.
Matt Damon plays Mark, a botanist working on Mars with five other scientists/astronauts. The story starts right in with the Earthlings having to race to their ship as a wind/sandstorm is approaching. Mark gets hurt and they all believe he has died. They fly up to their mother ship, Hermes, and start on their ten month journey home. Mark, left alone on a deserted desert planet, must figure out how to survive for four years until the next mission to Mars is scheduled to arrive.
He has a shelter that all six members shared and a rover to drive around in. With supplies limited he must come up with ways to survive. Four months into his being marooned, he finds a way to contact earth. As soon as he does I expected NASA to have the Hermes go back to get him. That would make the most sense, right? Although it was clear to me that it was the only way for the story to go, it took over an hour for someone on screen to come up with the same obvious answer.
The Martian gets a bit political with Jeff Daniels talking about how much the rescue mission will cost as NASA has become privatized, thank you Obama, and how they have to answer to the stockholders. The film itself is political in that the Chinese play a big role in the rescue. What is with China being Hollywood's recent go to country when someone needs help. China also came to the rescue in Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014).
I am all for praising the smart and inspiring people to learn but action films make better cinema. The Martian runs 130 minutes even though there is only story enough here for half that running time. We get zero background on Mark. Each crew member of the Hermes gets a single scene with their family back home on a screen. There is little to no character development. What is there for the audience to connect with? The film looks good and has amazing visuals but its slow pace and lack of characterization left me unattached to Mark.
We already had Apollo 13 (1995), where real astronauts were portrayed in a real life or death space situation in which they had to rely on their brains to make it back to earth alive to their loved ones. I was caught up in that story even though I knew the outcome. I was inspired by their bravery and math skills. Here I also knew how it would all end but never truly cared. We are never shown anyone anxiously waiting for Mark to return. He has no wife or children counting on him, only his employers. Look, if you want to make smart people exciting you have to tell a true story like Apollo 13 or a made up one with some action, like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Seriously, he made history cool and I cannot count the amount of people who wanted to become archeologists after they saw it.
Matt Damon in The Martian
With all the praise this film has been receiving, I expected to disagree with Eric's negative review. While I did seem to enjoy it a bit more than he did, he does make a couple of very valid points.
The film's biggest problem is the combination of the inevitable ending with the overly long running time. If you can't see how this movie will end from the very beginning, I'm going to assume that this is the first movie you've ever seen. With that in mind, dragging out the outcome is pointless. The attempts to build prolonged tension are overkill. And it's not just the ending that is telegraphed well in advance. As Eric pointed out, clearly the Hermes is going to be used to attempt a rescue mission, but it takes forever for anyone to even suggest the idea in the film. And when the safety inspections are skipped on a supply rocket, you can easily guess what will happen.
No doubt part of the reason for the long running time is because the filmmakers wanted to include as much as they could from the bestselling novel the film is based upon. However, what works on the page doesn't always work on the screen and director Ridley Scott should have been more daring with his adaptation. As far as foreign countries that could help in such a mission the only real choices are the Chinese or the Russians, which perhaps explains why author Andy Weir chose to include them in his story and Ridley Scott to subsequently include them in his film version.
The other problem that I agree with Eric about is the lack of character development. We learn too little about these characters. What drove Mark Watney into space? Such a long and dangerous journey would require a tremendous commitment. What pushed him into it? There's also quite a lot of attempts at humor in the film, which keeps the mood too light. Only once or twice does Watney allow emotions to break through his flippant facade. Such an ordeal would no doubt change a person fundamentally, but he seems completely unfazed by it all.
Something Eric didn't mention, but which bothered me, was the means by which they attempt to rescue Watney. The evacuation of Mars, which results in his being stranded, is caused by a sandstorm with such strong winds that the escape rocket might tip over. However later we learn in what amounts to a deus ex machina that there is another such escape rocket on a distant part of the planet that was supposedly dropped off there for a future mission. Given the apparent tendency these escape rockets have for tipping over in strong winds, does it make sense to leave one sitting on the surface of Mars for years?
Although I sound overly negative about this movie, there are things to enjoy. The cast of actors are all first rate and filled with familiar faces. Some of the most entertaining scenes take place on Earth with the technicians at NASA trying to figure out how to help Mark survive. The visuals are as amazing as you would expect from a film of this caliber. And Mark's triumphs in figuring out how to survive are enjoyable.
At 90 minutes I honestly think I would have loved this movie. It would have been much faster paced, with less time to see the obvious coming. Coincidentally, the similarly themed, far superior, astronaut stranded in space drama, Gravity came out exactly 2 years ago today. Its running time? 91 minutes. Sometimes less really is more.
Matt Damon in The Martian.
I concede my brothers' points that the story moves a bit slowly and that the outcome is never really in doubt. But at the same time I think they were both too hard on this movie. For the most part the story stays grounded in reality. There is nothing so unbelievable that it forces the audience to suspend disbelief. Sure you can nitpick over the details of the plot but what's the point?
And I didn't mind the lack of back story for the main characters. Over the course of the movie we get to know enough about them. I certainly was emotionally invested in whether or not Watney survived. The cast is quite good, with Damon giving one of his best performances in years.
I disagree with Scott about the humor. It didn't seem out of place at all and it adds to the movie's entertainment value. Obviously Watney used it to keep himself going. Wallowing in self-pity isn't going to help and he certainly knew the risks before he went on the mission. I enjoyed his many wisecracks to the camera and his constant complaining about Commander Lewis's taste in music, which leans heavily towards disco. He gets quite emotional in several scenes as well.
The cinematography is stunning. The Martian is visually very impressive. You almost believe they filmed it on Mars. The Martian has been called Cast Away in Space, but it is really much more than that. Besides the scenes of Watney struggling to survive all alone on the red planet we also have the scenes back on Earth as well as those of the crew members aboard the Hermes. It is far from the one man show that was Cast Away.
Perhaps my brothers have become jaded after seeing so many, many films over the years, but clearly they are in the minority when it comes to The Martian. And while they certainly make a few valid points, the movie is more entertaining than they give it credit for being. I enjoyed it.
Photos © Copyright Genre Films (2015)