Monday, October 5, 2015

The Martian

Mild Spoilers.

Six astronauts are sent to Mars for the Ares 3 mission -- Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan), Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) and Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Their mission on Mars was supposed to last 31 sols (Mars days), but on the 18th sol, a huge storm blows in, forcing them to abort their mission. During their escape, they lose one of their men; the lowest ranking, the botanist, Mark Watney.

In any other space movie, this would just be the first casualty of probably many (with six people, you have plenty to spare) but this cheeky lighthearted botanist doesn't get the memo: he wakes up on Mars, alone, with an antennae stuck in his gut, and decides that he's going to live. On Mars. With limited food. In a Hab meant to last 31 days. For 4 years. Until the next Ares mission will come, and he can hitch a ride home. How? Science.

The coolest interplanetary scientist on the planet.

Okay, I just have to say one thing before I can fully concentrate on this movie: The book was better. And once you finish reading this review you'll know that I say that only to emphasize how remarkably, incredibly amazing the book is, not to say that this movie is in any way lacking. Because it's not. Anyway, with books, you can't include an awesome soundtrack!

This story's greatness comes mainly from its stranded hero, Mark Watney. In spite of his nearly hopeless situation, he stays optimistic, and works determinedly to solve the daunting problems in his way with a cheerful attitude. This creates a lot more humor than one would really expect out of a space survival movie, and Matt Damon is the ideal person to play this endearing every-man and unconventional hero. The ability to become a person who can crack a joke while losing a staring contest with death isn't really definable by what one would normally call "talent" -- it's a quality that you either have, or you don't. Well, Matt has it.

He's the same from beginning to end, never going through a "heroic journey" or any character change at all. It's unusual. I love it.

Damon fills the personality of the lonely Martian comic perfectly, and then puts his talented efforts into portraying the serious and intense drama realistically. Charm isn't something that Damon's characters ever really lack, so it's no surprise Watney has that, but the level of vulnerability we see in him is less expected. If you don't absolutely adore this character after the first 30 minutes, you have a heart of stone. Rooting for a hero with complete abandon has never been so effortless and inviting.
He may be the lone man on Mars, but he is certainly not alone in the movie. The rest of the crew mentioned above all have their part and do their share. Particularly outstanding is Chastain as the ship's commander. She gives a deep and elegant performance. I also just really love Michael Peña. He always keeps thing up-beat and interesting. I wished to see more of Stan's doctor Beck, but when you're the strong and silent type, that just how it goes. Hennie's German scientist keeps up with the bigger names easily, and Mara hits the mark for the geeky and kinda weird cute girl.

You're awesome, you're awesome... you're ALL awesome!! Sadly Michael Peña is absent in this photo. Michael, you're awesome.

On Earth we have another cast, and another story line, as NASA does their part to bring Watney home alive as well. There, we have Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the head of the Mars missions, Sean Bean as the Ares flight director, Kristen Wiig as NASA's media relations, plus Donald Glover, and Mackenzie Davis. These guys almost split their screen time with Damon, and while none of them come close to having the captivating charm of his Watney, they all do a great and commendable job. Standouts here are Ejiofor, who comes across effortlessly, and controls the screen while he's on it, and Glover who's just... unexpected.

And you, sir, are a steely-eyed missile man.

Fact: space movies are better with a soundtrack from the 70's. This movie uses that knowledge to full advantage, by including several musical working-montages, that are, to be perfectly blunt, epic. This really is the one thing the movie could do that the book couldn't, and it was beautiful, and sometimes very funny, and beautiful. In fact this whole story is a balance of beautiful and funny. The comedy comes too often and is way too unique and funny to be classified as just comic relief, and in the hands of Ridley Scott, the look of the film is consistently breathtakingly gorgeous, and beautifully foreboding. It gets every bit as edge-of-your-seat intense and despairingly emotional as you'd expect from such a hardcore survival adventure, but remembers to give us plenty of relief too -- via wit and fun and grandeur and many glorious moments of triumph against the odds.

Starman, waiting in the sky....

Adaption-wise, there was a lot that was word-for-word the same, and there were some changes; some that I expected and some that I didn't. But, the reason why I love this story so wholeheartedly is not because of the events that take place, and in the end, even the few bigger changes made no real difference because the heart of the film stayed exactly the same. This story focuses on sincerely connecting with its audience, giving us a straightforward story full of simple truths and raw honesty, instead of coolly trying to impress us with cheap, contrived, and empty parlor tricks.

I was wowed by the visual feats and impressed by the practiced, involving film-making. I had tons of fun listening to the musical montages and Watney make sarcastic quips with all that Matt Damon charm. And the fact that most of the film is scientifically viable is endlessly impressive. Those things all make a good, enjoyable movie, but this achieved greater heights than that. I don't abandon my cynicism and reserve while watching movies lightly, but here I willingly fell head over heels, because I found something that was worthy of investing my cares in. A genuine, everyday, unlikely fictional hero set in a story that is designed to sincerely engage and inspire us through him.

The all natural, organic, Martian-grown potato farmer.

The Martian resonates because of a striking harmony of simple, but powerful details. Mark Watney is a good guy, put into a near-impossible situation. Totally alone, he scrapes and fights with an uncrushable spirit. He may feel it, but he's not truly alone; on Earth, complete strangers pitch in valuable time and resources to his desperate cause. And Watney's crew all happily risk their lives for him. The fact that this story is technically science fiction, set on Mars, using real science theoretically in order to create a realistic backdrop, is just that; a really, really, really neat and fantastic backdrop. The core of the story itself as real as it gets; affirming the inexhaustible value and wonder of human life.

On Mars. To the tune of David Bowie. And ABBA. With science!


  1. Awesome awesome review. I agree with everything. Matt Damon was so perfect in this role. It was such a cool story and I loved Mark's character. "They're just saying fastest man alive because they think I'll like it. ... I do like it. But I'm not going to tell them." "when you're the strong and silent type, that just how it goes" Ha.

    I'm glad to hear the heart of the book was the same in the movie. That's awesome and doesn't happen that frequently. The one thing I would have liked the movie to have spent more time on was the return journey to Earth with everyone on board...not for any more action but just to see more of the characters interacting. Is more time spent on that in the book? I loved all of the characters. The story's cool how there's no bad guy, just a big problem to solve.

    I loved the quote "it's bigger than one person" "no it's not".

    By the way, how long does it usually take you to write a review? Just curious.

    1. Thanks so much Sarah! He really was, wasn't he! I've pretty much always enjoyed his characters and appreciated his acting skills, but I wasn't a full-blown fan until this movie, and this character. He completely won me over. :) That line was great! It wasn't in the book, so I was especially impressed with it. :D Haha, thanks. Sad but true. :P

      Yeah, more of a reunion for the crew and stuff? That would have been nice. The book was actually less satisfying in that way, but made up for it in a different way. (Book ending spoilers) It's funny, cause in the book, Watney says "If this were a movie, everyone would have been in the airlock, and there would have been high fives all around. But it didn't pan out that way." :P Instead they get a super brief reunion several minutes later which is relayed to us by Watney via log update while he waits for painkillers for his ribs to kick in so he can shower. The book ends there, with him alone again, making a beautiful speech about human nature, and how overwhelmed and happy he is. No Earth at all. It was an amazing ending I thought, but like he said, for a movie it needs to be different, so it is kinda sad we don't get to see more of all the crew together again.

      Me too, I was really surprised at how many fantastic characters there were! You'd kinda just expect one, you know? They even got some romance in there on the side! And yes! That is one of my favorite things about this story. :D

      Me too.

      Usually I can get the main bulk of writing done in 1 or 2 hours -- depending on length and inspiration. Then I take a break before doing rewrites, restructuring, and additions or subtractions so I can clear my head. So that plus photos, captions, and links probably takes about another hour or a little more, but because I don't do it all at the same time, it usually takes at least all day, usually two, and in The Martian's case three (it gave me trouble ;)) to actually finish up and publish it. But the actual work time isn't that much -- it really does vary a lot, but 2 or 3 hours total is probably the norm.

  2. I've tagged you for The Bedtime Movie tag

  3. EXCELLENT review, Sarah. I heartily agree on all points but one: I feel like Watney does change and grow by the end, but this is just a gut feeling, not one I can back up without seeing this a second time I'm really looking forward to the book now!

    1. Thanks Hamlette! :) Okay, but you mean in smaller, more subtle ways I assume? Cause I can definitely concede that. In the movie particularly you can see the toil that all that time alone took on him. I guess I meant more in essentials. Some stories would have him start a jerk and become a hero, but he goes into the situation already a hero and stays that way. And then some stories would have him be heroic from the beginning, but have the ordeal he goes through "break" him, so he becomes humorless and tortured by the end, but instead he never loses his sense of humor, and is always ultimately positive and optimistic. I hope you'll write more of your thoughts after the second viewing! I'd love to see some deeper insights.

    2. Yes. It's subtle and small, but I really feel like it's there -- that he's less... carefree, maybe? Still positive and optimistic, but now less "everything will be all right -- I can fix this." More aware of his own frailty, that sometimes there's nothing you can do, that you have to rely on other people to help and not do everything yourself, that sometimes your best efforts aren't enough? I'm kind of tossing stuff out right now -- I can't put my finger on it yet, really. I have a horribly busy October and probably won't get to see this again until DVD, but I will definitely post more when I do see it again. I'll probably get to read the book first! I'll also review that when I get it -- possibly as early as next month.

    3. That totally makes sense, though I would put it more in the category of things he learns, not necessarily changes in his personality. I'll look forward to that someday then, and I'm definitely excited to see what you think of the book!! :D

    4. Well, yes, but a character's journey can be about what they learn and how that changes them, not about them becoming fundamentally different.

    5. Right, totally! But it's an unusual way to do things, and that why I love it. I definitely agree and appreciate that he has a character journey. It's just that the lack of a heroic journey -- by which I mean a journey from not-a-hero to hero -- or any big character/personality changes is what I love most. I hope that makes sense.

    6. Exactly -- it's there, but it's not blatant or obvious or even easy to find. Good stuff.

  4. We seem to be in complete agreement on this one! I happen to glance at the Rotten Tomato rating, but I never expected it to be THIS great of a movie! It did everything right. The real science, relatable characters, and the humorous tone made it so entertaining yet so smart. There is nothing that felt cheap or a missed opportunity. It was never sappy or melodramatic. It made me care because the characters were real and not some forced reason. Also, the geeky references, especially “Project Elrond” was perfect. It was even funnier when Sean Bean explained it! :D Do you remember if the Iron Man and other references in the book? Overall, excellent review! This is going to be one of my favorites by the end of year. Actually, this is probably my favorite sci-fi movie of the last few years.

    Lastly, I liked Interstellar quite a bit, but The Martian actually makes me like it less (and it makes Gravity look like it was written by a 10 year old, lol), because The Martian shows how great a space film can be.


    1. Good, I'm glad! It did, it really did. It was a really accurate adaptation, and even in the few ways it was changed they did an amazing job keeping faithful to the right tone. I'm so glad they steered clear of the melodrama! You might think that the humor would keep the serious drama from being effective, but really it made even more so! I love all the references, and I'm so glad they kept the "project Elrond" scene! That was straight out of the book. And the Iron Man reference was in the book too. Exactly the same except that he didn't actually do it. They amped up the tension for the movie's climax. :P Thanks a bunch! Mine too, I believe.

      Yeah? I still haven't even seen Interstellar! Still want to, (mainly cause I found out that Matt Damon is in it) but I don't have huge expectations. Haha! YESS. I despise Gravity so much. So, so much. The Martian totally trounces it!