The Martian (2015)

Sir Ridley Scott is back, baby!! My faith in The Man has been restored! This fantastic film is the perfect apology for his 1, 2, 3 Knock-Out Punch of Questionable Movie Choices of late, starting with a flick I’ve unfortunately grown to loathe, 2012’s ‘Prometheus’ (Visuals=Great, Script=clumsy and idiotic), followed by the high-potential-but-shockingly-bad ‘The Counselor’ in 2013 (Visuals=Great, Script=pure shit), and ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ (Visuals=Great, Script= Ambitious but largely dull…and possibly racist). Those three titles have had me worrying that Scott’s mental faculties may have been dwindling, possibly due to age or maybe influenced by his brother and fellow visionary director Tony’s untimely suicide…or both. Whatever the reason, his comprehension of what made a script good seemed to be on the ‘outs’, even though his keen and distinct ‘eye’ was certainly still intact. However, ‘The Martian’, based on a popular novel of the same name (that I have yet to read), by an author named ‘Andy Weir’, is a slam-dunk contender for Most Enjoyable Film of 2015. As it stands, this flick bumps ‘The Gift’ down to 3rd Place for me, while still lingering behind the action juggernaut that was ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.
‘The Martian’ opens with the first manned mission to Mars, on Day 19 since first landing. As we get to feel out the crew’s fun and believable dynamic during a day of Extra Vehicular Activity, they are suddenly set upon by an unexpected storm; a storm powerful enough to effect a Full Evacuation of the site and an emergency blast-off for their orbiting station,’The Hermes’. During the rush to the escape rocket, Mission Botanist ‘Mark Watney’ (Matt Damon) is struck by a large piece of blowing debris and his signal is lost. With no time to spare, the rest of the crew are forced to lift off without him. With the evidence in hand, NASA and the crew of ‘The Hermes’ all naturally assume their comrade is lost to them, and thus they begin the long voyage back to Earth. However, ‘Watney’ didn’t die. He regains consciousness and quickly realizes his dire predicament. Instead of crying curled up in a corner while waiting to die, the plucky botanist goes to work on ‘Sciencing the shit’ out of the complex problems and unforgiving hurdles he must surmount in order to survive long enough to give a rescue the chance (and time) to reach him. While he gets to work with the supplies at his disposal, NASA figures out the situation on Mars and also gets down to it, trying to figure out how to make a rescue into a reality.
As stated, this movie is great! Despite the hefty 141 minute run-time, I wasn’t bored once. In fact, I was exhilarated the whole time! It was SO refreshing to see a movie where there wasn’t a dastardly villain or some fantastical evil force that needed to be bested by our hero. Instead, we get a multi-national group of intelligent people all working toward the saving of one man’s life; one man who embraces the wonders of science to endure against all odds, while capturing a nice portrait of ‘human spirit’. This truly is a ‘feel good’ film, on a huge scale, and it was such a breath of fresh air.
The Script is very well crafted and carefully plotted out, with some solid characterizations from the majority of the accomplished and recognizable cast. Despite the grim circumstances driving the plot, there’s a surprising undercurrent of humor that peppers the narrative. A substantial chunk comes from the smart-ass personality of ‘Watney’, which Damon has nailed down. He was a terrific choice to carry this movie and it would be cool to see Scott and Damon team up again sometime down the road. That being said, Damon isn’t the only noteworthy cast member to contribute effectively to the telling of this tale. We also get Jeff Daniels (‘Speed’), Sean Bean (‘Patriot Games’), Chiwetol Ejiofor (‘Serenity’), Kristin Wiig ‘(Bridesmaids’), Benedict Wong (‘Sunshine’), Kate Mara ( ‘Shooter’ ), Jessica Chastain (‘Zero Dark Thirty’) and Michael Pena’ (‘Ant-Man’), among others. They ALL do a solid turn with the admittedly thin characters. One more thing regarding The Script, despite not being the most scientific of humans, I appreciate the use of believable-sounding concepts and lingo to get smart thrills of out of the situations and resources that probably would be present in such a scenario. Word around the campfire is that NASA was heavily consulted on the script to try and inject as much realism as the medium of film would allow…and it shows. If this film influences ANY kids out there into pursuing an interest in science (not just outer space either), then Sir Ridley Scott, script-writer Drew Goddard and author Andy Weir…gentlemen…I salute you.
Being a Ridley Scott film, the visuals and cinematography are expectedly gorgeous. The Mars exteriors are grand and awe-inspiring. It was clear to me that Scott took what he learned about shooting sci-fi settings in 3 dimensions, on ‘Prometheus’, and applied them to this flick. The slick 3D added to the otherworldly aesthetic beautifully, further increasing the expansive ‘depth’ we’ve some to expect from Scott’s films, going all the way back to ‘The Duelists’ (1977). The attention to detail in the props and sets was also pure ‘Scott’, and it all felt like something we could conceivably land and use on The Red Planet in the next 20-30 years. Despite my distaste for ‘Prometheus’, seeing Scott yet again tackle an Outer Space / Alien World motif did whet my appetite for the upcoming sequel. Hopefully he can make up for the colossal miscalculation that was his ‘not really’ prequel to ‘Alien’ (Hint: don’t let Damon Lindelof near it!!).
All in all, ‘The Martian’ is a fantastic addition to Ridley Scott’s already impressive filmography. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Time looks back on his movies, and ‘The Martian’ stands tall with titles of his like ‘Alien’ (1979), ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘Gladiator’ (2000) and ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2001). Of all his films, only ‘Matchstick Men’ (2003) is funnier and it’s interesting to note that, while we generally associate ‘heavier’ material with Scott, the guy does have a deft hand with comedy as well, as is clearly demonstrated here. ‘The Martian’ has a smart script, compelling characters (that you’ll want to root for), beautiful visual design, an appropriately whimsical music score by Harry Gregson-Williams and enough scenes of genuine excitement to keep your inner Action Junkie satisfied. I highly recommend seeing this on The Big Screen in 3D (if you’re the type who can handle it). If you enjoyed films like ‘Gravity’ (2014) or ‘Cast Away’ (2001), this one will definitely work for you, but it’s so well crafted that I wouldn’t be surprised if damn near everyone has a Good Time with this one. As previously stated, this is easily one of The Best Films of 2015. Check it out. You won’t regret it!

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