Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Movie Review: The Martian


OK this is really late. But I finally caught up with this movie and it is one of the best of 2015.

For those who haven't seen it the plot in a nutshell: it's 2035 and the Ares III mission to Mars is on schedule when a violent storm forces them to evacuate. All of them make it except Mark Watney (Matt Damon), the team's smart-ass botanist, who everyone-from the Ares crew to NASA-believes is dead. Well Watney isn't dead and has to survive until a potential rescue mission or the next Ares team lands. It involves "sciencing the shit" out of his resources and the hostile environment of Mars while his rescuers come up with a plan to bring him home.

I'll admit up front that I haven't read Andy Weir's 2011 novel so I approached The Martian without any notions shaped by the book and came away loving it. What keeps it working is that director Ridley Scott doesn't let the film go completely dark or hopeless (Gravity springs to mind here) or succumbs to B movies astethics but keeps the science real, the characters honest and brings a welcome sense of humor to the film. In fact it's that last ingredient that makes it watchable, from Watney's humorous comments to the running gag that all he could find on his team captain's hard drive is 1970s disco music, there was a smile on my face all through it.

Helping sell that is Damon, showing off both his dramatic skills and his likability. In another actor's hands Watney could have become an unlikable jerk but Damon grounds him in the reality of the character's situation and his problem solving skills without giving up. Even when disaster hits, Watney keeps positive and Damon plays that to the hilt. I'm rooting for him to steal that Oscar next month since he delivers (and does it without boasting he ate bison liver).

Also helping is the visuals, As usual for a Ridley Scott film it looks spectacular, especially the scenes of Mars. Shooting in Jordan and with the help of subtle visual effects Scott pulls off a convincing red planet that looks both real and mysterious, not just a dull brown desert a la John Carter. In fact Scott captures that "National Geographic" look that Andrew Stanton said he was trying to do in Carter much better, again showing what a skilled, talented director and crew can do.

There are some flaws of course. The bickering between the heads of NASA can get a little boring (even though it's helped made tolerable thanks to strong performers like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig) and some might wish the film would speed it up a little but those are small nitpicks. In the end The Martian is a great film, well directed and acted and worth seeing. Sorry it took this long for me to see it. Rating: **** out of 4.

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