The Martian (2015)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Contains spoilers.

Space travel has always boggled the mind. It's astounding, intriguing, eye-opening, beautiful, dangerous, and so many other adjectives. The Martian concerns itself largely with the danger aspect.

Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, one member of a crew of six astronauts on a 31-day mission to Mars. When a storm interrupts their mission, and they're forced to abort and return home, Watney is hit by debris and blown away in the storm; presumed dead, Watney's left behind. But he survived. In a habitat designed for 31 days of habitation and with enough food for a hundred days or so, but with rescue not arriving for years, by his estimation, Watney realizes he has to "science the shit" out of his situation in order to survive. After announcing Watney's death and holding a funeral in his honor, NASA discovers from satellite imagery that he might still be alive. Then, after miraculously developing a farm in the habitat and figuring out how to communicate with NASA the wheels start turning to bring him home.

Andy Weir's story about the stranded astronaut and the effort to save him is a scientific masterpiece of drama and emotion. Rarely can a story intertwine science, emotion, and the human condition so artfully. But all is captured here: the beauty and the danger of Mars, the intrigue and vastness of space travel, the usefulness of even basic science and life skills, and the inevitability of human nature. And while this is a science fiction tale set in the near future, the skillful writing of both Andy Weir and Drew Goddard paints this as nothing less than realistic in its entirety. Coupled with real science and fantastic production values, The Martian could be ushering in a new era of science fiction with less fanciful love power.

Damon sets forth a performance of exquisite hope amid desperation. As Mark Watney, botanist, survivalist, scientist, engineer, and astronaut, he jumps off the screen. The charisma and determination are palpable. Except for a couple of off lines now and again the rest of the cast is equally stunning, creating an array of dynamic characters with working chemistry and interaction.

Ridley Scott has a great eye for photography and that of Dariusz Wolski comes alive with shocking effect. Whether static or tracking, the shots are precise and informative. The mixture of regular photography and found-footage-esque shots, as Watney uses GoPros to record his activities, is particularly effective, displaying the majesty and wonder of the Mars landscape and space flight, then bringing it down with humanizing shots that we can be familiar with, making the setting almost relatable when mixed with the overall likability and style of down-to-earth dialogue of the whole cast.

Further, Scott's skill in creating a specific atmosphere, seen time and time again from Alien to Blade Runner to Gladiator, is in peak form once again. The often expansive shots and monochromatic pallet create an intense isolation, obviously in the case of Mark Watney but even in other shots at NASA, JPL, and otherwise. The sometimes lively song choice doesn't change that, and the subtle soundtrack underpinning everything is tense, tying us with a critical urgency to Watney's plight.

And the emotion is revelatory. It's a testament to every facet of this production in that the emotion is not obvious, but more a realization from watching the story unfold. Seeing Watney's situation unfold and the efforts that so many people go to in order help him is an emotional experience. From hope to happiness to desperation to loss, the amount of emotion in The Martian is Oscar-worthy, and the way it interplays with the science is also Oscar-worthy.

 

So we're taken on this ride with Mark Watney. An amazingly written ride with an unendingly daunting tone and the proper photography set up in such a way where some things, like blatant show-off shots of Matt Damon's physique, can appear silly at first but can turn out to be a tool to measure the state of his survival. And this all comes together into a story of hope and determination and a gripping conclusion that is better felt, and I haven't had cause to say this lately, on the big screen before the small one.

 
 

TL;DR: Ridley Scott has this odd knack of really catching onto the soul of a film, and that's no less true in The Martian. Every aspect of this movie is good or great. The story is thrilling and carried out with great acting; the photography is tense with a matching soundtrack; the experience is visceral and exciting. And that's good. Obviously I recommend it.

  • Acting – 18 / 20
  • Story – 19 / 20
  • Cinematography – 18 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 7 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 8 / 10
  • Science Fiction – 9 / 10
  • Other – 9 / 10
 

Grade B = 88 / 100