Title: The Martian
Cast: Matt Damon
Genre: Science Fiction
Watched: October 22, 2015
Summary: Sensible, well executed, gripping, yet slightly mechanical
I haven’t written a film review in a while — mostly because I watch more TV these days, plus the movies I do catch in theaters are mostly for 6 year-olds. But I was also lazy, and should have reviewed the awesome Fury Road.
Anyway, of course I had to see the Martian. Even though it’s yet another movie about rescuing Matt Damon, it’s also a space epic and directed by Ridley Scott. Sure, Prometheus half sucked (details thru the link), but hey, Blade Runner and Alien bought him at least 50 years of good will.
The Martian bears some considerable resemblance to 2013’s Gravity. Both are about space disasters and trying to get back to earth. Like other “lone survivor” movies a single actor dominates in both. Stylistically the two are extremely different. Gravity is very focused and intense, with an extreme (and awesome) visual style, very few actors (about 1.3), and constant unrelenting tension. The Martian is more cerebral, conventionally emotional (although not as adrenaline focused), problem oriented, conventionally shot, and probably more science grounded. They are just different. The Martian lacks the extreme visceral reminder of the scope of indifferent natural forces arrayed against the protagonist. I lay this fault on the Martian‘s staid soundtrack, and fairly staid visual style. Mostly soundtrack. Music is one of the keys to cinematic emotion and it isn’t used here to embrace the raw power of nature. Just not what Ridley Scott seemed to be going for this time around (although he’s gone that way before).
Damon does a good job, being mostly “good Matt Damon,” with only a few glimpses of that “evil and slightly annoying Matt Damon” we occasionally see (like in Interstellar). The other actors are all pretty solid, if occasionally formulaic. Some of them like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ned Stark — Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Pena are very well cast. Although the flight crew, notably Kate Mara, feel underused. They’re kinda missing during the first half of the film (after the intro).
The ground crew gets ample time, although these segments sometimes feel a touch formulaic and replete with mandatory cheer leading — still they work. Although I have to take the time to point out one of my “world building beefs”, that being the depiction of future earth. The film never says what the year is, but obviously it needs to be 2030+, probably even later. That ship with the rotational gravity rings is a LONG way off. I mean, we could build it, maybe, if we got off our human asses and devoted some actual serious resources to space. But at the current rate… many decades. So given that, the filmmakers barely bothered to change anything up. A little building spruce up, some big touch screens, but clothes are the same, cars look the same, and at the end Matt Damon even drinks a Starbucks from a cup with one of those recyclable insulating wraps. I guarantee those will be gone by 2040!
Also worth mentioning the transparent pro-China plug. I’ll bet you $10,000 that this film had major Chinese investors. Now, it’s a perfectly reasonable speculation to imagine that in 20+ years the Chinese will be a huge super power, they are well on their way, and I’d put my money on that. But they in The Martian it just came out of nowhere and grabbed an odd amount of gratuitous screen time. Nothing is ever an accident in a Hollywood script: Chinese investor back pat!
Visually, really solid work. Mars looks great. The ships looked great. But somehow it just didn’t take my breath away. Maybe because Mars looks the same everywhere? Or maybe it was the workmanlike visual style or even more likely, the subdued, or 70s oriented, soundtrack. Gravity on the other hand an amazing Soundtrack by Steven Price.
One of the best things about the film is it’s straightforward problem solving style of narrative. Problems come up, and the characters work through them, MacGyver Style. Plus the science is good, with no obvious “totally impossible” bits — thank the lord. Overall, this is a very solid Science Fiction film, impeccably executed, which somehow stops short of being “great” because of some slightly mysterious lack of style or wow factor. Still, it’s much improved over the kind of nonsense that permeates Prometheus and has a much better message than Matt Damon’s last SciFi outing Interstellar. In the Martian, good old human ingenuity, persistence, and drive save the day instead of a mysterious faith based Deus ex Machina.