By Adam Garcia
The 1-4-0: Ridley Scott’s #TheMartian creates an uplifting and surprisingly funny sci-fi survival story that highlights the best of humanity.
The Gist: Based on the fantastic novel by Andy Weir, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is accidentally left behind on Mars after his crewmates are forced to evacuate. With limited supplies, Watney must utilize his wits and spirit to find a way to survive on the hostile planet. Meanwhile, back on Earth, members of NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring him home, while his crewmates hatch their own plan for a daring rescue mission.
What Works: Andy Weir’s novel is lightning in a bottle. Originally self-published, the novel is a brilliant mixture of humor, hard science, and hope creating one of the most fun and thrilling reads of the past few years. That it was so quickly turned into a film is no surprise, and with incredible talent both behind and in front of the camera, the adaptation is one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory.
From Matt Damon’s Mark Watney to fellow astronauts, (Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, and Michael Peña) every single character in the film is incredibly likable, and the audience instantly invests both in Watney’s struggle to survive and in the international effort to rescue him from Mars. As in the novel, there is a surprising—and refreshing—amount of humor. From the crisp, witty dialogue of NASA officials (Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Sean Bean, et al) to Watney’s often laugh-out-loud commentary, the movie leaves the audience smiling throughout, easing but never removing the film’s inherent tension. The film also skillfully handles the hard (and accurate) science, explaining much of it in laymen’s terms in ways that are both natural and often very funny. Scott moves between the various plot lines with ease, building to a tense and thrilling climax that leaves the audience pumping their fists along with the film.
Much of the film was shot with practical effects, which alongside the subtle use of 3D, gives the film a sense of depth and reality. In every way, the film helps the audience believes this could really happen. But what makes The Martian so refreshing is its focus on the best aspects of humanity, a point underlined by the film’s uplifting coda. This isn’t simply the story of one man’s struggle to survive alone of a desolate world, this is about hundreds of people working together to save one man because that’s what humans do.
What Doesn’t Work: While the movie does stay incredibly true to the source material, it does lose some the novel’s incredible humor, most of which came from Watney’s narration. This is only a minor quibble, as well as a not so subtle suggestion to go buy the book in addition to seeing the movie.
Pay or Nay: Pay. ‘The Martian’ is one of the most optimistic films of the year, reminding audiences that not every sci-fi film needs to be cynical or dense with headache inducing pseudo-science, and that hope isn’t such a foreign concept. Now, if you’ll allow me to break the fourth wall for a second, there is a passage from the novel that is featured in the trailer, but was sadly cut from the film, one that resonated with me the moment I read it, and has stayed with me ever since:
“…every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?”
Rated: PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Screenplay: Drew Goddard (screenplay), Andy Weir (book)
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan, Mackenzie Davis, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Aksel Hennie, Mark O'Neal, Brian Caspe
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Film Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi