If you were, quite literally, left alone on a desert planet, how would you react? Chances are pretty good that it would be a tough pill to swallow, to put it mildly.
Well, not if you’re Mark Watney, the hero of Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian. Mark is an astronaut who gets left behind by his crewmates after they lose contact with him during a severe storm on Mars and he is presumed dead.
But he’s not.
When faced with the daunting proposition of having to survive on an inhospitable planet all by himself, Mark makes a resolution: “I am not going to die here.” And so begins his epic journey to survive against all odds. In order to survive, he’ll have to figure out how to grow food on a planet where nothing grows, and reestablish contact with Earth after most of his equipment was damaged in the storm.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that he does succeed in contacting Earth, since the scenes set on Earth comprise a good portion of the film’s running time. And also that he is now the most famous Martian ever, aside from maybe this one:
Love that guy. But anyway, in the movie Mars is where the real action’s at, and every time it switches back to Earth I wanted it to go back to Mars. This is not to say that the Earth scenes are bad, or unnecessary. To me, they just weren’t quite as much fun as the Mars scenes.
But like I said, the Earth scenes aren’t bad at all, and they’re all vital to the plot of the movie. It also helps that the film features an expansive cast, and seemingly every major role is played by a likable and well-known actor. You’ve probably heard of some of these folks: Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and many others. All of these actors are great, and it’s always nice to see so many talented people on screen.
But of course the real star is Matt Damon, who plays the brilliant, smartass Mark Watney to absolute perfection. He’s a joy to watch, which is even more impressive considering that he’s by himself for 95% of the time he’s on screen, and, being the film’s star and all, he’s on screen quite a lot.
The Martian ends up being a stirring tribute to good old-fashioned human ingenuity and perseverance, with Matt Damon as Watney at its core. The film could easily have been a total downer, but thanks to Mark Watney and his awesome, goofy personality, it’s actually quite a bit of fun.
Which isn’t to say that the film doesn’t deliver on the nail-biting tension, because it does. I was holding my breath for the last half-hour of this movie. Really, the entire movie is a balancing act that could have gone spectacularly wrong at any point in its execution, but it didn’t.
The film is faithfully adapted from the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, who self-published the book before it was picked up by a publisher. The screenplay was written by Drew Goddard, who directed The Cabin in the Woods (a fun, scary movie I recommended a few Halloweens ago), and Goddard’s script does a great job capturing Watney’s smartass personality.
The script also does a great job conveying the scientific aspects of the story. The book is very science-heavy, and it has to be so that readers will be able to follow what Watney is trying to do. The film does a great job conveying this without drowning the audience in exposition. It’s always clear what Watney and the folks back on Earth are doing, and the movie is never confusing, which makes a big difference.
The Martian is also a very funny movie, much of which is due to Matt Damon, and there’s a very funny running joke about the awful disco music Watney is forced to listen to, because it’s the only music he has. The rest of the cast also gets some funny moments (there’s a very funny scene in which Elrond and the Lord of the Rings are discussed, while Sean Bean is sitting at a table, quietly not saying anything).
Other recent space movies like Gravity and Interstellar are incredibly tense and frequently harrowing, but they’re not as much fun as The Martian. Gravity and Interstellar aren’t bad movies at all, but given the choice between The Martian and either of those two films, I’d pick The Martian.
It’s also a great-looking movie. I don’t know where the Mars scenes were filmed, but there’s a stark beauty to the Martian landscapes, and the scenes set in space itself also look great. For the most part the movie is faithfully adapted from the source novel, with a few slight alterations or additions here and there. The ending has been beefed-up a bit to heighten the tension, and the movie also adds a lovely little scene at the very end (which was not present in the book) that shows you what the main characters did after the film’s climax. I won’t spoil anything, but the movie’s ending just leaves you feeling really good.
It’s a surprisingly funny and uplifting movie, and by the time “I Will Survive” starts playing over the end credits, it would be hard not to have a smile on your face. I certainly did.
I saw The Martian in 3D, which was cool at first but the novelty wore off fairly quickly. What is interesting to me as I’ve thought about it afterwards is that my feelings about the 3D being lackluster aren’t really due to anything the movie itself does. The problem is that my eyes just get used to the 3D effect after a while, and I just kind of stop noticing it. It’s not the movie’s fault that, in my opinion at least, 3D doesn’t add much to the experience of the movie.
That was a bit of a tangent, but the 3D didn’t make me enjoy the film any less. It may not have added much, but it didn’t take anything away either, so I guess I can’t complain too much. The Martian is a great movie regardless of how many dimensions you see it in, and you don’t have to be a hardcore sci-fi or science nerd to enjoy it. Not only is it easily Ridley Scott’s best film in years, it’s also a movie that will leave you feeling good about the human race, which is a feeling we could all use a lot more of these days.