Why do we keep wanting to see Matt Damon in space? First Interstellar and now the adaptation of the very popular space book that asks what would happen if you left someone on Mars. Can this finally be the space movie that gets it all work, or in space, can no one hear how badly a film falls apart?
Let’s take a look at The Martian.
Mark Watney gets trapped on Mars after the rest of the crew are forced to abandon the mission. Stuck on a wasteland of a planet, Watney is sure he is going to die, but rather than go straight for the morphine, he decides to try and survive until the next mission arrives. Meanwhile, NASA discovers Watney is alive and is trying to get him home as soon as possible before he starves to death or the Mars terrain kills him. The rest of the film is race against time with the many different characters working to save the life of one man, as all of Earth turns their hopes and prayers to the stars.
I typically try to keep my impressions of the book out of a film review, because I do believe a film should be able to stand on its own merits. However, in this case, I think the movie is leaps and bounds better than the book. It has more human drama, it doesn’t follow the robotic tone of the book, Mark Watney is not a super knowledgable botanist-engnieer-physicist who had an instant solution to every problem, the pacing is better, and the crew of the Hermes actually get some decent character development. I know there are many people who loved the book, but I was less than thrilled and was glad to see the movie take it in a better director. The story, overall, is followed pretty faithfully, so even if you are a fan of the book you have nothing to fear. If there’s one thing I will say, compared to the book, it felt like it was a little too easy to get to Aries IV, but they placed all their narrative eggs in the big finale.
I was genuinely surprised by the star power they pulled in for this movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kirsten Wiig, Donald Glover, Jessica Chastain, Benedict Wong, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, and more. Sean Bean is even here, and in the best inside joke ever made, he attends a secret meeting called “Elrond” after the Council of Elrond in Lord of the Rings, and he doesn’t even die. And for the most part, the cast is an excellent fit and actually matches the book well…except for Mindy Park. Why they chose to take a character who was specifically Asian in the book and make her a white Seattle-grunge nerd when they didn’t do that for any other characters (though Kapoor goes from Indian to only half Indian in an attempt to justify Ejiofor) is beyond me.
Still, as far as the performances go, everyone is at the top of their game. Chastain makes a fantastic leader, Mara and Stan have great chemistry, Damon bring incredible humanity to the character, and Ejiofor blends so well into the character you forget its him. Ridley Scott typically knows how to get good performances from his actors, and with a cast this strong, it’s no wonder that the result is a Grade-A ensemble performance. Also, I really missed seeing Donald Glover on screen and if this is his return to this line of work, he gets a thumbs up from me.
However, it is not to be missed, the shining star of this galaxy of a film is definitely the cinematography. Where Interstellar was all about cold and stark whites and blues, this movie is wrapped in warm tones, even in the cool and dark offices of NASA. From the Martian terrain, to onboard the Hermes, even the action scenes are gorgeous to look at, with fantastic uses of practical affects, filters, and CGI. Personally, it’s one of the most beautiful space movies made that didn’t essentially copy the Kubrick formula for stellar cinematography (pun absolutely intended).
The Martian might not be my top pick for the best film of 2015, but it is certainly a good start to Oscar season, and in all respects, is a damn fine movie. Some people are in love with it, and I worry that my knowledge of the book dampened my potential infatuation with the film, but that’s the risk of adaptation. If you’re looking for a fun, non-space-anxiety-inducing, science-positive film, this is as good as it gets.
– Great acting.
– Great cinematography.
– Good story overall.
– Some pacing issues leading up to the finale.