The Martian (2015)

"Everywhere I go, I’m the first. It’s a strange feeling. Step outside the Rover, first guy to be there. Climb that hill, first guy to do that. Four and a half billion years, nobody here. And now, me. I’m the first person to be alone on an entire pla…"Everywhere I go, I’m the first. It’s a strange feeling. Step outside the Rover, first guy to be there. Climb that hill, first guy to do that. Four and a half billion years, nobody here. And now, me. I’m the first person to be alone on an entire pla…

Everywhere I go, I’m the first. It’s a strange feeling. Step outside the Rover, first guy to be there. Climb that hill, first guy to do that. Four and a half billion years, nobody here. And now, me. I’m the first person to be alone on an entire planet.”

There are but a few films released in recent memory that have the “epic” adjective associated with it – frankly the word is overused by just about everyone when describing something which takes any gravitas away from the word. If one thing is certain in life, leave it to Ridley Scott to direct his films with a sense of spectacle and an impression of an “epic” feature. The Martian is but another “epic” in the director’s long filmography. Based on the novel of the same name by author Andy Weir, The Martian defines the word in every sense. 

I can’t imagine what it feels like to be stranded in a foreign place completely isolated and cut off from the rest of civilization. Cast Away explored this unnatural event on this planet but what happens when you’re on Mars and your crew leaves you with the impression that you died? Your Darwinist instincts kick in and you go into survival mode. It’s the only option as far as astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is concerned. There is no way he will die on Mars after a storm causes debris to crash into him causing Mark to be presumed dead and lost on the red planet. 

The Martian and its characters all have their own agendas – well, at least NASA and director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) has their own agenda and the shared agenda with the rest of the characters. His decision making is politically motivated in the sense that rather than tell the crew that Mark is alive, he thinks it’s best for them not to know that they abondanded their crew member and left him for dead. It’s all about the mission but in a way, you can see things from his perspective – we can bring home 5 crew members alive still. Teddy could be seen as the antagonist of this story given that fact that he follows in his own self-interest. If it’s not an idea he can get behind (telling the crew that Mark is alive or letting them know of the Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) Maneuver) than its not ideal for NASA.

“Oh, one big bonus to this communication with NASA again, is the email. I’m getting them again, big data dumps like when I was on the Hermes, I even got one from the president. The coolest one, though, the coolest one I got was from University of Chicago, my alma mater. They say that once you grow crops somewhere you’ve officially colonized it. So, technically…I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong.”

When all signs point in a certain direction, he’s reluctant to follow but it all works out in the end or at least it’s supposed to. Mark is a likeable enough guy so what would be the purpose of killing him? There is none. Right away Matt’s charisma shines through Mark Watney. It makes a great documentary when Mark is all alone doing his absolute best to not die against the extreme circumstances he’s been placed in. Even with those insurmountable odds against him Mark’s spirit never breaks especially when it bends, and all hope is seemingly lost. 

Some of the best scenes in The Martian is when its only Matt Damon on screen by himself using his science abilities to survive. The Martian is a story of resilience, the human spirit, determination and survival. It’s the biggest theme in screenwriter Drew Goddard’s script. Mark Watney is a normal relatable guy, its hard not to root for him and his rescue. It’s not even a second thought to his crew to slingshot back around and add 19 more months to their voyage.  He would do the same for everyone else – it’s in his DNA. 

Within The Martian there are three sets of stories being told in the grand scope of things – Marks story of survival, the crew consisting of Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), pilot Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Dr. Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan), & Dr. Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) who unanimously decide on mutiny to save Mark and the executives at NASA who must decide what to do, what information to release and what to say to the public regarding a rescue. Under Teddy is Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean), Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong), Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) & Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig).

“I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars. There’s an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you’re not in any country’s territory maritime law applies. So Mars is international waters. Now, NASA is an American non-military organization. It owns the Hab, but the second I walk outside, I’m in international waters. So here’s the cool part, I’m about to leave for the Schiaparelli Crater where I’m going to commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this and they can’t until I’m on board the Ares 4. So that means I’m going to be taking a craft over in international waters without permission, which, by definition, makes me a pirate. Mark Watney, Space Pirate.”

The Martian features a cast of pure talent to support Matt Damon. From top to bottom every performance is outstanding. Ridley Scott gets the best out of his cast while each character plays an integral part in Mark Watney’s rescue. With the long runtime, Scott chooses to sprinkle character development over the course of the film. The little moments between characters stand out the most. Debating on how Mark words his messages to NASA – “Are you F***ing kidding me”? we know how he meant it as he inaudibly screams, but it’s brilliant how Victor questions it.

One thing Scott does well within his films is building tension with little to no action. Harry Gregson-Wiliams’ score plays a part in building the tension but it’s how each scene is framed and shot that creates most of the anxiety and suspense. Of course, leave it to Scott to have a character with an abdomen injury (too bad it’s not an alien creature, though adding an alien creature would take away from the verisimilitude that’s established).

Its impossible to ignore how meta The Martian is. Adding in the “Project Elrond” scene with Sean Bean is too awesome of an opportunity to pass up. I see what you did there Drew Goddard – well played. 

Many Science fiction films that deal with other planets and isolated humans can involve a horror element that borderlines the unrealistic. The Martian’s tone is quite the opposite – tonally Scott keeps things relatively grounded in realism. Given how fast technology updates to suit the modern world, these events don’t feel too far off. We just have to remember to bring everyone home at the same time. 

Matt Damon is alone for the majority of the film. Given the amount of characters the chemistry that radiates off screen is impressive with the amount of screen time the full crew has together. Character motivations are made very clear – each has their motivations detailed and enough time to be developed. If there is one thing that The Martian could teach us is the absolute loathing Mark has for Commander Lewis’s taste in disco music.

With how much drama that surrounds Mark Watney, a steady dose of humor is injected in the screenplay. Mark is still able to find hope that he will survive while showing his comedic side. After all he’s technically a pirate and the person who colonized an entire planet, in your face Neil Armstrong. The way the actors and actresses portray their roles, the humor comes across as natural and organic. None of the comedic dialogue is forced to distract from the situation at hand. 

You can’t help but smile and cheer as Mark is rescued. The rescue is built up over the entire story and the journey to that moment is well deserved – Iron Man and all. You feel for Mark when things go bad and also celebrate with him when he makes any sort of progress. The Martian is pure spectacle, and each shot is brilliant by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. The landscapes alone of the red planet are breathtaking to behold. Damon takes a character that many may not initially be able to relate to and make him relatable, you want him to survive. 5 out of 5. 

So, tell me, have you seen The Martian and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

The Martian is written by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott, is Rated PG-13 and has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Martian was released on October 2, 2015 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 31 minutes. The Martian can be purchased by online retailers including iTunes, Google and Amazon. 

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