Written by Aaron Sarnecky
THE MARTIAN PLOT SUMMARY:
After going missing in action during a dust storm on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) must find a way to contact NASA while also figuring out how to survive years alone on the Martian surface.
Wouldn’t you know that this is the third year in a row a space movie has come out in the fall? 2013 had Alfonso Curan’s Gravity, 2014 had Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and now 2015 has Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which actually stars two actors from Interstellar, Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain. Ridley Scott, of course, is the director who brought us the sci-fi classics Alien and Blade Runner, as well as the not-so-classic pseudo-prequel to Alien, Prometheus.
But despite Ridley Scott’s interest in science fiction, he has also done multiple movies grounded in history or reality, and in a way The Martian wants to be the bridge between the two. It’s also Ridley Scott’s latest attempt to win his way back into the good graces of moviegoers after several disappointing films. I haven’t seen all of his movies, but the last one I enjoyed was American Gangster from 2007. And now that I’ve seen The Martian, I can say that Ridley Scott is on his way back to his former glory.
That being said, The Martian is not as good as I maybe hoped, though before I talk about the cons, I’d like to talk about the pros. The biggest pro, without a doubt, is Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney. Without his wit and sarcasm, a movie like this never would have worked. Instead of trying to get us emotionally attached to him through sympathy, the film focuses on his personality. We do sympathize with him, but it feels more organic because it stems from the situation he’s in, as opposed to seeing what his life on Earth was like. The movie takes a similar approach with the rest of the Ares 3 crew, who leave him on Mars because they think he’s dead. We learn about characters like Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) as Watney goes through their things.
The rest of the cast is pretty good too, with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Vincent Kapoor probably being the next most likable. The casting team also did a nice job of casting Jeff Daniels as NASA Administrator Teddy Sanders. It’s hard to believe sometimes that this is same guy who had a massive bowel movement in Dumb and Dumber. Speaking of comedy, there’s a funny moment involving The Lord of Rings that’s made all the funnier by the presence of Sean Bean as Ares 3 flight director Mitch Henderson. His role is relatively small, but it’s always a pleasure to see Bean.
However, even though I’ve said all these nice things about The Martian, the big problem with the movie is that it’s too long. At 2 hours and 22 minutes, it’s definitely not the longest movie that I’ve seen, but with this movie’s content, the length is apparent; I checked the phone in my pocket repeatedly, and the first time I did I was upset to learn that only an hour had passed. It’s initially very cool to see how Watney thinks up of ways to stay alive or reach NASA, but as the movie drags on, that coolness decreases rapidly. It becomes an exercise of waiting for Watney to say something else funny to pull you back into the movie. Though there are numerous scenes of comedy, they’re spread too thin and I’d have a better time looking at a compilation of these on YouTube when the movie hits shelves next year. Keep in mind that a few of these moments were already in the trailers. It’s also worth mentioning that there are some meant to elicit laughs that didn’t work for me; they’re not painfully unfunny, they just didn’t hit the mark, at least for me.
My other issue with this movie, the effects, is more minor but nonetheless important. While the cinematography of the Martian surface (shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan) is excellent, some of the space effects aren’t up to par. The spacecraft themselves look pretty convincing, but watching characters float in space with the planet in the background looks so fake. It really took me out of the movie, because so much of it is on sets or on location. While I’m not crazy about the mostly CGI approach Gravity took, the fact that mostly everything was made with a computer kept the look consistent.
Honestly, I find this movie hard to rate. It has a lot going for it. Matt Damon, the science, and the plot itself impressed me. But there were so many times when I just wanted it end. Still, I would feel bad giving an entertaining but stupid movie (such as Jurassic World) the same or higher score than this smart but sometimes boring movie. I appreciate that it’s not mindless violence, and that it’s a mostly original property (it’s based on an book, which I might want to read now).
But I got to go with my gut. I don’t need to answer to anyone else, and I got to be true to my feelings about this movie. And I feel that I don’t really need to ever watch it again. It was a nice one-time thing, worth seeing in theaters with a friend, or renting or catching on Netflix. Anyway, don’t read into the exact number rating too much. Look at that word next to it.
RATING: 7 OUT OF 10 (GOOD)