Film: The Martian (2015)
Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Ridley Scott
Oscar History: 7 nominations (Best Picture, Actor-Matt Damon, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars
(Spoilers Ahead) The film is based on the bestselling novel by Andy Weir, who is that wonderful authorial success story of a writer who put his novel out there for free after being rejected by numerous publishers, all-the-while eventually finding out that he had a bestseller on his hands and the very science-influenced novel got brought to the big-screen. The story is of Marc Watney (Damon) and the crew of the Ares III, who are on a manned expedition in Mars in 2035, but are forced to cut short their mission when a dust storm compels them to leave the red planet early. During the storm and the evacuation, Watney is struck by debris and the crew, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain), abandon him assuming that he has died. We find out later that he is, in fact, alive, and that he will have to find a way to travel over 3200 kilometers to the site of the Ares IV landing (four years away) while only having less than a year's worth of food. Thanks to ingenuity and perseverance (and an incredible amount of intelligence brought down by bouts of bad luck) Watney survives the journey as his crew-mates eventually come back to rescue him.
The film comes on the heels of space dramas like Gravity and Interstellar, stories about nearby space and the impending, likely, space boom that will happen on Earth in the next couple of decades provided we don't end up in another Cold War. However, while The Martian is a drama (don't let the Golden Globes fool you there), it doesn't follow in the nail-biting footsteps of Gravity nor the heavy-handedness of Interstellar. The Martian is a space film with a lighter touch, and much of the film actually has a spryness that recalls something like Sam Raimi's Spider-Man more than the deep drama we expect from such a survival adventure. Matt Damon as the film's central character is wonderful, even if he's stretching the movie star muscle a bit more than the actor's muscle, and we get to see the guy we fell in love with in the 1990's in films like The Rainmaker and Good Will Hunting and not the drabness of something like Invictus. I also really loved the counter that the crew on the ground played against Watney, all hyper-seriousness (truly-at what point are people going to recognize the ridiculously strong winning streak that Kristen Wiig has created in the past few years-where is her Truman Show?). While the remainder of the crew of the Ares III (which, considering Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, and Kate Mara are all onboard, looks more like a Louis Vuitton ad than a spaceship roster) isn't really as interesting as one would hope, they also have their moments (which run the risk of melodrama). Considering the big-name stars, it's actually quite stunning this film didn't score a nomination at the SAG Awards for Best Cast.
The film's light touch occasionally takes a bit of the heat out of the final third of the film as there's no question (like, say, in Gravity) that Watney will be rescued, but up until the final thirty minutes or so this is a wonderful ride. I loved the way that the sets on Mars seemed so realistic, and the way that Watney's character found uses for everything and impelled his joy onto us as an audience when he succeeded (has a movie ever made potato-planting seem like such a rewarding endeavor?). This is a bit of a nitpick-y complaint though, as overall this was a wonderfully-delightful styled summer blockbuster (even if it came out in October)-the kind of movie that used to win Best Picture nominations in the 1990's. Well done to all involved.
Those are my thoughts on The Martian, a film that wears better in the old noggin that I initially thought it would upon first viewing it. What about you-are you also intrigued by what Damon and Scott brought to the screen here, or were you hoping for something a wee bit more dramatic? Why do you think Ridley Scott and Matt Damon came up somewhat short this awards season? And how much do you think Andy Weir's next book will fetch from publishers after his first got so roundly rejected? Share your thoughts in the comments!