Martian, The (2015)
Release date: September 30, 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Novel by: Andy Weir
Screenplay by: Drew Goddard
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Sean Bean, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover
A year ago, Matt Damon played an astronaut trapped in outer space in Interstellar. This year, he’s playing an astronaut trapped in outer space in The Martian. If you think both films feel similar, I wouldn’t blame you: they share some plot elements and they even have a similar use in casting with Jessica Chastain. Though, both are different in their own way.
Based on Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian is all about NASA astronaut/botanist Mark Watney (Damon), who was pretty much left for dead in Mars by his team after a dangerous storm compromised their mission regarding the planet’s exploration. Somehow, he survived the storm and finds himself stranded alone on the hostile planet. Right after waking up, Mark quickly starts off his attempt to survive Mars with his knowledge and wits, using any resources he has available in order to extend his life as much as he can, and find a way to make contact with Earth to communicate that he is alive.
Despite the inevitable comparisons between both projects due to Damon’s casting, it also draws similarities with Gravity since both revolve around a character’s survival in outer space… or Castaway, if you want a non-space example. Unlike the previous, The Martian showcases a big supporting cast that is also involved with Watney’s survival — among the important supporting characters we have NASA Administrator Teddy Sears (Daniels), director Vicent Kapoor (Ejiofor), satellite reviewer Mindy Park (Davis), mission commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain), and astrodynamicist Rich Punrell (Glover) — putting front and center the exploration of the character’s loneliness as well as several debates regarding the feasibility and execution of his rescue mission, the latter tying well with the theme of how people help each other selflessly in desperate times.
“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”
What really makes this different from its fellow outer space peers is that it lacks the massive mishaps that usually happens in space-related films, and that it actually operates as a dramedy — the trailers won’t hint at that, which makes it an unexpected and pleasant surprise — and fully embraces it. From the use of video logs and disco music (the only tunes available in the ship, greatly used at all times) throughout his stay in the planet, as well as Mark being a funny wisecracker, The Martian makes a pretty strong case for survival films being actually fun and entertaining, alongside its strokes of humor. Laughter is medicine, I hear people say, and this runs with it thanks to a stellar and optimistic performance from Damon, whose character’s survival attempt is not only funny, but also becomes awe-inspiring considering how Mark started off.
Other of its stronger points has to do with Ridley Scott’s direction and tone, lighter and different than his previous sci-fi films, which balances nicely scenes between Mars and Earth while keeping Mark’s survival as the center of attention, plus a smart script by Drew Goddard that permits a strong focus on performance and character, as well as making science-related scenes easier to understand for non-scientific and non-geeky people.
Although there are some minor flaws, like the Earth scenes not being that riveting when compared to Mars, the film’s time length, and (for those who care about race representation) the casting of Davis, Ejiofor and Naomi Scott as Asian characters– to be fair with Ejiofor, he was a last-minute replacement for Irrfan Kahn, and he did well with his role; you can overlook those flaws because The Martian is not only one of this year’s best, but it’s also visually stunning and a pretty fun cinematic experience.
But I still have to ask one question: why does USA spends so much money on rescuing Matt Damon?