Movie Review: The Martian

I apologize for being late on posting. It is purely the fault of my own. Please excuse my tardiness. Also, I will not be seeing The Walk because director Robert Zemeckis is creatively washed up (insert Cast Away reference here). Side note, I was actually in the Twin Towers a year before 9/11. The Statue of Liberty was tiny from up there. The One World Trade Center, however, looks like a modern art dildo.

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Since I could remember I have been interested in all things space. It is not totally on my mind every waking hour, but when I think about it I am confounded by how awesome it is. The possibility of exploring a planet other than our own or travelling vast distances to discover what lies beyond is what keeps my attention to the stars. When it comes to the celestial bodies in our system, I think the Moon is underrated, but Mars will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a cool place I would like to visit and the Science Fiction genre thinks much the same.

Movies about Mars have steadily fallen by the way side. Mission to Mars and Red Planet were my favorites back in the day, but upon revisiting them I found they do not hold up. Next came John Carter, which is still great despite everyone saying otherwise because they do not know how to have fun. Three years later we have The Martian, based on a book I have not read. Did it do my favorite planet justice or should I have read the book?

I was elated to find my favorite director, Ridley Scott, was at the helm. If anyone can do sci-fi right, it is the man who changed it forever with Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies. It came out in 1982 and Scott did not return to the genre until 30 years later with Prometheus, but because people are stupid nobody liked it. On top of that, his brother Tony committed suicide, which could have contributed to the creation of Exodus, a movie I was a little too kind to. It was not good and not terrible, but it did not feel like Scott at all. With Martian, however, I can safely say he has made his triumphant return.

While on an expedition to explore a region of Mars, Watney, played by Matt Damon, becomes stranded in a storm as his team flees to safety. Alone on the Red Planet, Watney must try to survive while NASA devises a way to deliver more supplies or mount a rescue mission.

The theme of Martian is global cooperation. Despite wars and petty disputes, exploring and studying space is something every nation can get behind. When Watney is discovered alive, the whole planet comes together to save him. The personnel behind the rescue are multiracial, multi-gendered, multi-religious, and China offers to let NASA use their propulsion system when attempting to launch a supply rocket. It reaffirms that space travel transcends Earth and makes us see ourselves from the perspective of our humanity, bringing us together better than any worldly cause.

Scott is a movie buff’s director. He knows the value of the craft of filmmaking and sees the corruption bureaucracy has wrought. He is as old school as you can get, subverting conventions while being accessible to contemporary audiences. He takes his time delivering story in a clear and consistent manner without looking down on his audience by giving everything away. Scott is also a big fan of practical effects, real sets, and real locations, making strategic use of CG when there is no other option. I wish he would use more miniatures, though.

Martian is very much Scott’s rebirth, a nostalgia trip to his early years. The opening credits sequence is a borderline copy of the Alien opening with a similar font and score. The look and feel is clean with steady shots that show every element of scenes from action to set pieces in a simple, beautiful way. The Mars environment looks authentic with colors consistent with the actual planet and not some desert filmed through a filter.

The weakest part of Martian is also its performances. Being a large cast I understand if it was difficult for anyone to standout. For me I have always seen Damon as Generic White Guy. While he puts effort into his roles unlike King Generic White Guy Paul Walker, I never see him as anyone other than himself, and he did not feel like the character Watney. My least favorite performance was Jeff Daniels as Sander. I understand he is an allegory for NASA’s arrogance, but I could not tell if he was willing to let Watney die or save him because of how transparently inconsistent he was as a prick character. There were a couple standouts like Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor, but nobody else to warrant mention.

The Martian is what Science Fiction used to be and what we need in our time. Like the genre specifies, it uses fact to enhance its fiction while delivering a compelling message that speaks to our humanity. Definitely get a ticket it if you want to see modern sci-fi done right. But if the genre is not your thing, Sicario is still fantastic.


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