The Martian is a space survival story centered on astronaut Mark Watney. While on a mission to Mars, a violent storm forces the entire crew to abort their mission. During the escape, Watney is struck with debris and loses contact with his team. This results in his counterparts believing he perished before he could even make it to the escape craft. Watney manages to survive the incident, however, but is the only human remaining on Mars. He must apply his knowledge of science not only endure, but establish contact with NASA back on Earth.
Having missed this movie in theaters, I heard some things about the story – primarily Watney’s potato farming. However, I thought this element – Wateny’s use of science to farm food – to be one of the main aspects of the story. I was wrong. The Martian’s pacing is very fast. The potato farming aspect is touched upon in the first forty or so minutes. This does not mean that the remainder of the story is dull. Rather it allows the story to focus on other aspects of Watney’s ingenuity and science acumen.
The movie’s cast is stacked in a positive way. In addition to Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover all comprise the diverse supporting roles. Each actor provides great performances.
Despite the strong casting, the film does not really feel like a traditional ensemble cast movie. Unlike Spotlight, whose cast works closely to investigate the Catholic Church, the characters in The Martian are primarily separated into several groups. Damon is based on Mars, his former crew is in transit in space, and the NASA team and crew at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are on Earth, though in different locations. This adds a unique spin on traditional ensemble dynamics. The supporting characters are strong but it is clear that Mark Watney is the movie’s centerpiece; this is evident in the taglines: “Bring him home” and “Help is only 140 million miles away.” This also complements the film’s notion of isolation.
It is nice to see Kristen Wiig break from her comedic typecast and branch out in a decidedly more dramatic role. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover offer especially good performances, though Glover’s character did not seem to get credit for devising the plan that NASA ended up employing in an attempt to bring Watney and his crew home safely. Jeff Daniels also does good work, though his character was repulsive. I found myself sympathizing with Watney in his sarcasm and attitude toward the ineptitude and obtuse nature of the NASA team.
Having not read the book, I can only comment on the narrative presented in the movie, hence this being a movie review. The story feels unique and does not get swallowed up by recent space and science-fiction films, namely Gravity, Interstellar, and even the distinctly more science-fiction-oriented movie, Prometheus, also directed by Ridley Scott. In spite of this recent surge in space films, The Martian stands well on its own without feeling derivative or hackneyed. This is both a testament to the story and original source material, as well as Scott’s directing, especially considering Prometheus was only released in 2012.
I also appreciated that Scott and the story helped explain the science being used. Watney’s explanation and asides, or breaking the fourth wall, in his video logs were very useful and were some of my favorite moments of the movie. The dialogue for these moments was well-written and the science behind Watney’s choices was accessible to those not specializing in that specific field. This speaks to Scott’s great directing of the movie and ability to clearly communicate complex science to a broad audience.
While a survival film, Watney is clearly supported by the crews at NASA and California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This aspect helps the film stand in relation to other survival films, such as The Revenant, which focuses heavily on one character’s story. As mentioned above, the supporting cast is strong, but Damon’s Watney is still the main focus; though it is nice to have the other teams’ perspectives depicted.
The production design, CGI, and cinematography are all stellar (hopeless pun, I know). The designs of the space suits and the stations all feel fresh and look great. The locations and CGI are all expertly crafted and really look like Mars, or at least how we think it looks.
The soundtrack and score are terrific. Harry Gregson-Williams’ original score features atmospheric orchestral parts and regal brass elements; these successfully communicate the space motif without being too blatantly science-fiction. The soundtrack elements, particularly the theme from Happy Days, disco tunes, the fitting “Starman” from David Bowie, and other songs help provide a sense of grounding and memories of Earth, despite Watney’s isolation on Mars.
In the end, The Martian is an enjoyable, well-directed film with a good story and strong cast. The underlying lesson that Watney communicates throughout the film is to not be hindered by any problem you face. Instead, start thinking and adapting to how you are going to react to and overcome the situation. This a great lesson that can be practiced by us all.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Production: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; TSG Entertainment; Scott Free Productions; Genre Films; International Traders; Kinberg Genre; Mid Atlantic Films
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer: Mark Huffam; Simon Kinberg; Michael Schaefer; Ridley Scott; Aditya Sood
Screenwriter: Drew Goddard (screenplay); Andy Weir (book)
Director of Photography: Dariusz Wolski
Editor: Peitro Scalia
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Orchestrator: David Butterworth
Costume Designer: Janty Yates
Casting Director: Carmen Cuba; Nina Gold
Production Designer: Arthur Max
Budget: ca. $108,000,000
Release Date: October 2, 2015 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate; H.264; Redcode RAW
Laboratory: Company 3; Fluent Image
Copyright Holder: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; TSG Entertainment Finance LLC
Cast: Matt Damon; Jessica Chastain; Kristen Wiig; Jeff Daniels; Michael Peña; Sean Bean; Kate Mara; Sebastian Stan; Chiwetel Ejiofor; Benedict Wong; Donald Glover; Mackenzie Davis; Aksel Hennie; Shu Chen; Eddy Ko; Enzo Cilenti; Jonathan Aris; Gruffudd Glyn; Naomi Scott
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Rating: PG-13; Descriptors: Some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.
Running Time: 2 hours and 24 minutes (144 mins.)