Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on October 2, 2015
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)