Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

The Martian

The Martian - posterCinema Monolith: 7/10 Film Reel
IMDb: 8.3/10
The Arizona Republic: **** out of 5

Released on October 2, 2015
Rated PG-13
144 minutes

Directed by Ridley Scott

Written by Drew Goddard, based on the novel by Andy Weir

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Naomi Scott, Nick Mohammed

I’ll admit, there haven’t been that many movies released this year that I’ve been interested in seeing, with just Red Army, Maggie, the latest Mission: Impossible, and the upcoming Spectre the few lucky ones to make the list. So when I heard about The Martian just a short while ago, and discovered that it was directed by Ridley Scott, starred Matt Damon, and dealt with some sort of screw-up in space, I immediately added it to my list. Besides, it had been three months since I’d last ventured to my local theater to see a movie, so I figured it was time to find something that would give me reason to go again.

And with most new movies I see, I go out of my way to avoid knowing too much about the story or its plot points, and with The Martian I knew only what I could decipher from its understated poster. Here, however, I’ll take it a step further and reveal a bit more: Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut on Mars who is mistakenly left behind by his crew, and who vows to survive for as long as it takes to re-establish contact with Earth and find a way home. Easier said than done, of course, as Watney fights loneliness, fatigue, setbacks, hunger, and a very, very long journey across the Martian landscape, all in hopes of somehow achieving this incredible and seemingly impossible goal.

And that’s exactly what I loved so much about the first half of the film: the story concentrated on Damon’s character almost exclusively, and showed us the believable steps an astronaut would take if he were stranded on a distant planet alone, and had to trust his skills and wits to stay alive. It was all so enjoyably compelling, and at times quite thrilling and tension-filled, and the combination of Scott’s sharp direction and Damon’s likability had you thoroughly invested in the scenario. I could’ve spent the entire film with Damon on that damn planet, and not once cared if we ever went anywhere else.

But it wasn’t to be, as the second half of the story moved away from Watney’s predicament and spent too much time on Earth, where NASA engineers, Mission Control techs, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory specialists were introduced en masse into the narrative…but the question is, why? We’ve seen this side of cinematic space missions many times before, from Marooned to Apollo 13, and all these segments did was take us away from Watney, who to me was—and should’ve remained—the focal point of the film. I was baffled, too, by the film’s odd shift in tone (from serious to lighthearted) and the gratuitous use of disco songs as soundtrack music, which I grew weary of after just two or three cuts.

Mind you, these quibbles of mine didn’t ruin the movie for me…they just kept it from attaining a level of greatness that was so easily within its grasp. Who knows, maybe I was spoiled by Gravity, which did make Sandra Bullock’s character the focal point, and whose storyline did remain spacebound for all but its final few minutes. Still, I’d say The Martian is definitely worth a look: the positives of its first half far outweighed the negatives of its second, and the captivating work of Damon was enough to keep me entertained throughout its 2½-hour run time.  (7/10)

The Martian

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14 comments on “The Martian

  1. Stu
    10/24/15

    Good to read your opinions on a recent release. I also preferred the Watney-on-Mars material to the rest of it (the bits in the space shuttle with Jessica Chastain et al felt very underwritten to me). A fun film, though I think all the talk of Oscars around it is way over the top.

    • Todd Benefiel
      10/25/15

      I would’ve been okay with spending more time on the shuttle, too…if you’re going to put a few big name stars in your film, give them something to do! And I had no idea there was ‘Oscar talk’ for this; if anything, maybe for Matt Damon, but beyond that I’m not sure what all the fuss would be about. And I’m glad we could finally share a film…it’s been a while since Them!.

      • Stu
        10/25/15

        Hey, don’t forget my brief foray into the world of Kangaroo Bonsai, or whatever that thing was called!

      • Todd Benefiel
        10/25/15

        Good lord, you’re right, I forgot all about Kangaroo Bonsai, which of course was the version dubbed in Australian. Actually, I think you’re about due for another screening, maybe this time with more subtitles and less hallucinagens at your disposal.

      • Stu
        10/25/15

        EWFE: Everything Waits For Eegah.

      • Todd Benefiel
        10/25/15

        I believe I’d do a spit-take, soil my knickers, and immediately faint from shock if I ever saw a review for Eegah spring up on Popcorn Nights! Can’t wait!

      • Stu
        10/25/15

        Well that’s just too tempting.

      • Todd Benefiel
        10/25/15

        Great! Enjoy the caveman epic on the train tomorrow, write your review ASAP, and I’ll ready my trousers for some proper defouling!

  2. grandrapidsgirl
    10/24/15

    At the risk of sounding redundant – great review!! They get better and better. Not that this one is the greatest – just great. And how wonderful that it’s a current film – thanks. And of course as a good review should – makes me want to see this immediately. Hopefully WordPress won’t bounce my comment to Mars!! This is my second attempt. 🙂 Maybe a dupe?

    • Todd Benefiel
      10/25/15

      Nope, not a dupe, and no bounce to the red planet, but I have no idea where your first comment went…Alpha Centauri? Thanks for stopping by and checking it
      out…let me know if you ever see this one, and what you think!

  3. Reid-99
    11/4/15

    I enjoyed your review of the movie. I waited patiently for its release for about a year, having read the book twice before seeing the film. I agree with you about the focal point shifting, however being true to the novel, the earth side story was worth telling. The book was something different and I thought Ridley Scott did justice to Andy Weir’s novel, given the length of the film. Though it would have been an interesting story if the director focused strictly on Mark Watney.

    I could do without the disco too.

    My question is…..Just how much is the U.S. government willing to spend on rescue missions to save Matt Damon? (The Martian, Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan)

    • Todd Benefiel
      11/5/15

      Hey Reid, thanks for stopping by! I never read the book, but I can see where the book – having the benefit of more time to play with – would’ve made the earth story a better fit. And yeah, pretty funny…never made the connection between his films and all those rescue missions. Look for Damon’s next movie where the government once again rescues him, Saving Mail Carrier Thompson, coming soon to a Beta video outlet near you.

  4. Cody Durham
    11/18/15

    I won’t go into to much detail. But I agree. In short, with the movie having a solid thrilling beginning I was starting to think that I would be induced in a, sort of, Tom Hanks Castaway on Mars. But as the movie entered its halfway point it lacked very much in the entertainment that I thought I was going to receive. In summary why was there no Wilson volleyball to talk to for Matt Damon’s character? Basically more Mars less Earth as your review above had mentioned greatly.

    • Todd Benefiel
      11/19/15

      Hey Cody, thanks for checking in! Yeah, it’s too bad they didn’t concentrate more on Damon’s situation…but then, maybe the movie would’ve been a lot longer because of it (or much shorter, if you just removed the Earth sequences!). And there was a Wilson volleyball in the film; well, actually, it was a Spalding basketball, but those scenes were cut just before the movie was released.

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