365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

4Oct/150

The Martian (2015)

Fans of the self-published debut novel will not be disappointed by Ridley Scott's (Alien, Gladiator) adaptation of Andy Weir's The Martian. This is a good movie that should be viewed in 3D on the largest screen that you can see it on. While it doesn't come close as delivering the same experience as Gravity or even Interstellar, it is one of the rare movies that truly benefits by being seen in 3D. Before I get into this review, I want to mention that I will try to write it from the standpoint of someone who has not read the fictional novel as best as I can as I know this is something that most people have not read. With that said, I will refer to the novel. I will also give some spoilers, but I will give notice before diving into any of these. If you read around the paragraphs marked spoilers, you will be fine with reading this review before seeing this movie. The Martian is a very good movie, but it is not a great movie. I was not disappointed by it. If I hadn't read the novel, I think that maybe the trailers and the hype would have left me wanting more. This movie currently sits as my #6 movie of 2015, but I think there is less than a 1% chance that it will finish in my end of year top 10. It is a movie that I am very glad that I watched (again on the big screen and in 3D), but is one where one viewing is plenty. It didn't have the emotional impact that Gravity had nor does it have the What did I miss? I need to watch this movie again type of feeling Interstellar had. Also, as I will mention, something was missing overall from the performances especially considering that Scott landed the cast of the year. While I will heavily critique this movie, I again want to say that I really, really liked the movie. It was a very good adaptation of the book. It held my interest throughout its 2 hour 14 minute time frame. 

They say the science of The Martian was much more accurate than either Gravity or Interstellar. I am not a scientist and, the last time I checked, no one has ever been to Mars, so I have no idea. Without being a scientist (or even knowing very much about science in general really), it was pretty easy to tell that science in Gravity was utterly unrealistic. Of these three movies, this was supposed to be the one that was most believable too. It's never a good idea when even your most uneducated viewers look a film that is supposedly based on science and say right away That could never happen. To me The Martian and Interstellar are both way more fantasy than Gravity aimed to be. I have no criticisms when it comes to the science portion of The Martian because I really don't know any better and I haven't seen anything to refute any of what was presented.

So the rest of this review has mostly spoilers as you'll see in this next paragraph. Before getting to that, I want to mention that this movie is rated PG-13. I think it could have been rated PG. I think there are some kids younger than 13 that might like it (especially if they are into science). There are other groups of kids under 13 who might think that it is boring. I don't think there are many adults who will find this movie boring even though it is by no means an action movie. It's a fun adventure movie that will offer some things that you haven't seen on the big screen before. It might be worth seeing the film just for the cinematography alone. In any case, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon - Good Will Hunting, Promised Land) is left for dead after he gets hit by debris while trying to navigate through a storm on a space exploration trip on Mars. The other five members in his crew are certain he is dead and are forced to leave before recovering his body because their evacuation ship is on the verge of tipping over. Well it turns out he survived and now is left Mars by himself with enough resources, if everything goes right, to survive for a month while a potential rescue trip wouldn't happen for 400 days. That's the story. Here are the spoilers.

***Start of Spoilers***

Let's talk about the book and let's talk about the acting. Particularly let's talk about Damon. I realize that Scott took sort of an Apollo 13 approach where everything is going to be okay in the end. Now a big difference between Apollo 13 and The Martian is that Apollo 13 is based on a true story. So if you knew anything about Apollo 13, you know all is going end up just fine. You don't necessarily know that about The Martian going in, but it doesn't take forever to realize that this is how it is going to turn it out. The Martian is a feel good movie...much more than the book is. While the book definitely presents dire situation after dire situation that Mark is able to figure out and get out of, the movie only shows a fraction of those. The book also presents Mark with more situations of hopelessness than the movie does. The guy is stranded on Mars and there are dozens of ways that could kill him years before there is any attempt to be rescued yet depression never sets in? That's hard for me to believe. I've been around some super positive people who have been wiped out by situations far less extreme than this. Perhaps I wanted this to be a bit more of a drama than it really was. However, I did read the book. So I knew what I was getting into more than someone who didn't read the book. I really could see some people who were basing their decision solely on the trailer and the positive scores by the critics to be disappointed because there was no real drama. There was no real human emotion. You never really felt like he wasn't going to make it. You never felt that the crew, especially Commander Lewis, was distraught because they left Mark behind. I think Ridley Scott knew he couldn't include everything and decided to leave the human element of despair out of the equation. That's perfectly fan. I just don't think it would have been would I would have expected had I not read the back. The same can be said about Lewis's disco music. It's not really explained in the movie why he listens to that so much, but in the book it is clearly stated over and over that the only entertainment he had for all of that time was her music and reruns of Three's Company (interestingly enough...I believe Mark was watching an episode of Taxi early on in the film and I don't recall that being a show that was part of what he had to choose from).

So the acting...There have been same incredible performances of actors or actresses spending long portions of movies with no other people around. This was not one of them. Tom Hanks in Cast Away, James Franco in 127 Hours, Will Smith in I Am Legend, and Sandra Bullock in Gravity are the ones that come to mind. While none of these actors won acting's top prize, all besides Smith were nominated for a an Academy Award. Each of these four performances brought out the rawest of human emotion and allowed the audience to empathize with the character. I'll be honest when I say that I teared up in each of these four movies and probably would with each successive watch. These were four great movies and each was better than The Martian (in part because of that). I am a huge Matt Damon fan. He is one of the best actors out there, but, in my opinion, this performance is not a top five performance. There was some early Oscar buzz about his performance, but that was before this movie was even screened. It was fun to watch him survive on Mars, but nothing ever felt like it was impossible for him. And his setbacks were just that...setbacks. He is left alone on Mars, but there really isn't ever a feeling of desperation. Again, for me, this was unrealistic. Damon's performance was fun, but it pales in comparison to his performance in Elysium. In the movie, he was absolute dynamite.

The performances of the rest of the crew that had left Mark behind wasn't great either. The cast of five was highlighted by Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark 30, Take Shelter) and astronaut Rick Martinez (Michael Pena - End of Watch, Fury). The other three members of the crew were Beth Johanssen (Kata Mara -Transcendence, Shooter), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan - Rachel Getting Married, Black Swan), and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie - Hercules, Headhunters). It's a tight-night group by the death of a crew mate doesn't affect them (onscreen at least) nearly as much as it should. Commander Lewis beats herself up, but it's nothing compared to what she puts herself through in the group. In the movie, the few communications that the the crew has between Mark are lighthearted. There is a lot of joking. There is some of this in the book, but there are also deeper conversations between crew mates and mark as well as crew mates and their loved ones when they tell them that they are going to extend their mission by a year and a half. The relationship between Johannsen and Beck is hardly alluded to. And it never feels like anyone on the crew (outside of Lewis) goes through the depression that I would associate them with after losing one of their own. Also, the entire voyage to Schiaparelli is more or less ignored. Mark's crashing of the rover on his trip to Schiaparelli isn't even a scene in the movie.

Back on earth is where the best performances occur. Jeff Daniels (The Lookout, Pleasantville) plays Teddy Sanders, head of NASA. He's a numbers guy and makes no bones about it. Sure he would like Mark to come home safely, but not not if it means there is risk to the five other astronauts. It becomes the job of Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean - North Country, television's Game of Thrones), the flight directory of Ares III to convince Teddy otherwise. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, A Most Violent Year) plays engineer Vincent Kapoor whose job it is to come up with a solution to get Mark home safely. The red tape led by Teddy and others doesn't help nor do the ideas that go bust along the way. I don't even want to take about Kristin Wiig's (Welcome to Me, The Skeleton Twins) who was entirely miscast here. The best acting performances overall though were the ones held out of the command center in Houston, TX.

***End of Spoilers***

Will it wasn't as awesome as I had hope for, The Martian was a good movie and it was one that I'd encourage those interested in science fiction, fantasy, and space exploration movies to check out on the big screen in 3D. This isn't a disaster movie nor is it really a drama. It's a feel good movie and I think it was based served by being released when it was verses later in the year where it would have been overshadowed by Oscar contenders. For all the knocks I have given this movie, I did like it.

Plot 10/10 (Original and engrossing. I love original and engrossing)
Character Development 7/10 (could of...should have been better...this was a feel good movie. Unlike the book, I never felt like Damon's character was really depressed and I also didn't feel like Chastain's character was rattled with the guilt that her character was in the book)
Character Chemistry 7.5/10 (the best performances were the ones held on earth where are all of the political and risk management decisions were being made. Wiig was absolutely wasted. She should never have been in this movie, but the dynamics between Daniels, Bean, and Ejiofor were great. Damon alone on the screen for extended periods of time wasn't something he was quite ready for at this point in his career)
Acting 7.5/10 (considering the powerhouses in this movie, I was expecting a little bit more...the performances as a whole were flat. Damon was only slightly above average. Chastain was great as Captain Lewis, but the other five members of her crew were pretty flat overall. Daniels, Bean, and Ejiofor delivered A performances.
Screenplay 8.5/10 (a very good adaptation of the book...there were a couple of parts that were left out that I felt could have been included...especially the parts that made you empathize a little bit more with the lead characters...especially Damon's character)
Directing  9/10
Cinematography 9/10 (I'm tempted to give this a higher score, but I saw what was done with Gravity and Interstellar and these two movies felt leaps and bounds ahead of The Martian in this category even it was cool to see what the Mars surface might look like)
Sound 10/10 (Harry Gregson-Williams wrote a good score...interspersed well with Commander Lewis's disco fetish)
Hook and Reel 10/10
Universal Relevance 8/10 (I like a good space exploration movie. We will be on Mars one day. I don't know if it'll be on my lifetime. It would be cool if it is. But it will happen)
88%

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