Martian, The (2015)
Release Date: October 2nd, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis
ommander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and her crew of astronauts, including Mark Watney (Matt Damon), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan), Rick Martinez (Michael Pena), and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie), have reached the final day of the Ares III Mars mission. But when an unexpected storm hits their shuttle, and Watney is knocked clear of the launch site by debris, the group is forced to make a hasty departure back into orbit. Presumed dead, Watney is left stranded alone on Mars with little hope for rescue or survival. Unable to communicate with his colleagues or NASA, the lone spaceman must rely on science and his own ingenuity to devise a way to sustain himself on a planet devoid of all life.
An initial, severe tempest provides chaotic moments for “The Martian” to radiate an “Alien”/”Prometheus” vibe before the suitcam and dashcam found-footage sequences begin to cheapen the visuals (almost as if director Ridley Scott wanted to try his hand at the tired technique). Fortunately, they’re interspersed with standard cinematography, plenty of suspense (which Scott handles admirably), and even a moment of grisly, impromptu surgery (the kind of brief, visceral violence the director never shies away from). The focus on dwindling food, water (and its manufacturing when all of the research equipment is flame retardant), and oxygen, potential breaches in shelter, and communication deficiencies tend to save the picture from gimmicky digressions. Perhaps the greatest challenge could have been the extreme isolation and its effects on the psyche, though this is almost altogether ignored.
Strangely, the overall look of the project is largely conflicting; the technology used on Mars and for the Hermes transport resembles believable concepts for current space travel (or a science-fact motif), while the NASA facilities and other earthbound locations appear just as grounded in the present. But the technological advancements necessary for sending a manned crew to the red planet are so far into the future that certainly there would be robots or drones or driverless vehicles roaming about on Earth. In other words, the only concept that seems excessively futuristic is the setting of Mars itself. If this whole adventure had been based on a moon mission, there would be no conceptual discord.
As for the story, Drew Goddard’s script (from the book by Andy Weir) attempts to work too many narratives and an excess of characters into the exhausting running time. Watney’s ordeals are fascinating and thrilling as he utilizes science and his special skillset to overcome continuous – but never contrived – obstacles, which generate plenty of humor and several triumphant scenarios. A second plot intrudes into the timeline, featuring Lewis and her crew planning a daring rescue mission, which is circuitous yet generally necessary. But when a third viewpoint (NASA’s mission control center) butts into the already stuffed screenplay, the pacing drastically suffers. This completely unnecessary smattering of bureaucratic employees (most having so little to do that their jobs are never specifically detailed) adds nothing but political maneuverings, international teamwork (itself containing even more factions of pointless supporting characters), and public relations issues, which strive to slow down the momentum. The constructing of a probe, the orchestrations of launches, and the negotiations over information and timetables are excruciatingly unwanted.
There’s also a bit of heavy-handed interplay among crewmembers and coworkers that creates disappointing sentimentality. At least, when the bits of suspense arrive (mostly dealing with a lone survivalist doing inspirational things), they’re handled with Scott’s veteran expertise and Damon’s sensational screen presence. And, despite a coincidentally familiar cast and a theme of harrowing cosmonautical misadventures, the film manages not to be anything like “Interstellar 2.”
– The Massie Twins