Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Drew Goddard and Andy Weir
Starring: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sean Bean Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover
The Martian tells the story of a man who refuses to be broken despite insurmountable obstacles placed in his path, again and again. It’s smart, witty, and thought provoking.
If you threw up your hands and gave up on trying to comprehend Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last year you were not alone. The Martian also relies heavily on hardcore scientific concepts, but it is much more accessible than Interstellar. I won’t pretend I understood everything in The Martian, but enough to find it enjoyable and suspenseful. I didn’t leave the theater feeling like an idiot, I felt exhilarated and inspired.
Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, an astronaut who is separated from his crewmates when they have to abort their mission on Mars due to a massive storm. Once they lose his signal the crew commander Melissa (Jessica Chastain) concludes that Mark has perished and makes the tough call to leave the planet.
Mark awakens the next day buried in sand and makes his way back to the abandoned space station, utterly defeated and ruminating on the many ways he could/will die. Most of us would curl up in the fetal position and await our fate. However, Mark draws upon some inner fortitude and decides he won’t go down without a fight.
Watney takes the inventory in the station and comes to the grim conclusion that his food supplies are severely limited. Thankfully, he’s a botanist – possibly the only person that could be capable of growing food on an inhospitable planet. Watney encounters many roadblocks, but never succumbs to them. He eventually is able to make contact with NASA and the director of the program (played by Jeff Daniels), who vacillates between his desire to rescue Watney and the financial impracticality of doing so, not to mention the risk to any crew that would be sent to retrieve him.
Despite their efforts to keep Watney’s survival under wraps, eventually the whole world learns of Watney’s plight. Suddenly NASA is facing a lot of pressure to bring Watney back to earth.
The Martian follows two distinct plot lines – Watney’s fight to survive and NASA’s human cogs who scramble to figure out a way to rescue Watney before his supplies run out. Who knows if this is even close to the way NASA operates, but it’s fun to speculate that we are seeing a bit of the inner workings behind the curtain.
The Martian easily could have been a depressing and bleak movie, but a surprising amount of comedy keeps the movie from becoming mired in misery. Despite everything, Watney maintains his sense of humor, as evidenced by the video journal he keeps.
The film is impeccably cast. Damon is terrific, so much so that I can’t imagine anyone else pulling off the role. He has an impressive ability to convey Watney’s feelings with subtle body language and he fully embraces Watney’s sense of humor. He makes the movie.
Damon is accompanied by a terrific ensemble cast: Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sean Bean Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover flesh out secondary characters that play an integral part of the whole story.
The Martian is beautifully shot from locations in Hungary and Jordan. The barren landscape of Mars is enhanced by the 3D. Occasionally Mars looks manufactured, but that’s a minor quibble. My main complaint would be the running time (2 hours, 21 minutes). I felt that the last half hour could have been condensed without damaging the integrity of the narrative. Despite that, The Martian is a must see, and a legitimate Oscar contender. – Shannon