Movie Review: The Martian
Ridley Scott returned to space again this weekend with his film adaptation of the best-selling book, The Martian, by Andy Weir. It’s hard to say that Scott was having a rough patch previously; despite mixed critical reception, Prometheus made tremendous money, and while Exodus flopped, it was a visually intriguing film. If I had to fault him at all, it would be that most of his projects are trips on an amazing visual rocket-ship that sometimes forget to pack a decent story. This time out, the story came pre-packaged, and Scott delivered the goods in terms of technique, resulting in one hell of a ride.
The Martian recounts the fictional adventure of the Ares III mission to Mars which ends in disaster when a massive sand storm forces the crew to flee the planet, leaving behind their botanist, astronaut Mark Whatney. With only enough supplies to last half a year, Whatney (Matt Damon) must figure out how to use his extensive scientific training to survive on a barren planet long enough to contact NASA and arrange for a rescue mission…a prospect that could take nearly five years to accomplish.
The cast is packed with excellent performances. Damon captures the wry sarcasm of Weir’s protagonist and is supported by his astronaut crew mates (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan and Kate Mara) and all the geniuses back on Earth trying to get him home (Jeff Daniels, Chewetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, and Sean Bean…who inexplicably survives this film.) With that list of talent, you’d by excused for thinking you walked into a prolonged skit at the Oscars instead of a single movie.
Seeing Is Believing
There’s no way around it, this movie is gorgeous. The movie may star Matt Damon, but his real co-star is Mars as envisioned by Ridley Scott. Sweeping vistas, intense storms, incredible establishing shots, and top-notch effects really invest the setting with a flavor and personality. I thought the depiction of the setting in Prometheus was the single strongest element of that film, but The Martian puts it to shame. I never really noticed the score of the film, but I think that may be a consequence of my eyeballs having completely taken over my experience of the film.
I caught this film in 3D, and I have to say it is absolutely worth the investment. Once again, I thought the 3D in Prometheus was so well done that I never noticed how silly the story was…and The Martian blows that film out the airlock again! From the first establishing shots, you see that Scott has become a master at composing his shots for three dimensional viewing. Nothing is wasted, and your eyes are artfully directed through the landscapes without feeling like the picture is jumping out at you. This is a 3D experience for those who hate 3D. It gently uses the extra layers of perception to add to the composition of the film, instead of throwing cheap images at your head. It’s a master class in how to do this process right.
The Segment Wherein I Compare the Film to the Book, and You Roll Your Eyes
So, I liked the movie. A lot. But…how does it compare to the book? I put this film at the very top of my anticipated movies of 2015 list (yes, ahead of Star Wars) based solely on what a great book it was being based off of. Was I disappointed? Slightly, but only because the book is packed with so many great moments. If they’d done them all, this film would have been four hours long, instead of the two and a half hours it ended up being. I admire the director and screen writer (Drew Goddard) who managed to pull most of the best elements of the book out and pace them effectively, since so much time and so many events compose the whole of the narrative. My only gripe was that they neglected a major storm event in the book that makes the second half of the story into a thriller. I thought that could have been shoe-horned in, adding even more tension to the last act, which was a touch less dramatic than the first couple hours of film.
All Systems Go
Small gripes aside, there’s nothing to keep you from enjoying this film. Its well paced and well acted, it has a great plot that is filled with hard science (a growing trend for October Sci-Fi movies, thanks to Gravity, and one I hope continues) and it is a visual masterpiece. If you liked the book, you’ll like the movie, and if you haven’t read the book, do so after seeing this film; it will be like getting the extended version of the film six months early!