PLOT: Astronaut, Mark Watney, is presumed dead after an accident on Mars forces the rest of the crew to abort their mission and return to Earth. It turns out, he’s alive, and while NASA contemplates how to rescue him, Watney tries to figure out how to overcome insurmountable odds and stay alive.
REVIEW: The Martian is a refreshingly positive, thoroughly entertaining, and downright interesting film. There’s a spirit about it, an energy, something uplifting about it, which begins and ends with Matt Damon‘s performance as Watney. Here, Damon just exudes life. Stranded on Mars, his crew having abandoned him, and virtually no hope for a rescue, the odds of death are greater than the odds of survival. And yet, where we’re expecting Watney to go down the path of negativity, of depression, of losing his sense of will, with Damon, it’s the complete opposite.
Watney apparently doesn’t have a spouse, nor kids, unlike other members of the crew. When he has to say goodbye to someone back at home, it’s his parents. Devoid of the cliché of Watney carrying a little photo of his wife and children with him everywhere he goes, what is it that compels him to survive?
It’s his love of life.
For Watney, death isn’t an option. He only knows one way to do things, and that’s to figure out how he’s going to live.
The theme of “life” permeates throughout the entire film, and it helps keep it on track, without derailing into obvious and cliché territory. I was expecting at least one of the crew members to go space crazy and try to sabotage the mission, because that’s what tends to happen in movies about deep space. There’s always someone who goes space crazy, right?
The film steers clear of the stereotypes so our time can be better spent not worrying as much about asshole politicians back at home, or other unnecessary subplots, allowing us to stick with the real “heart” of the film, and that’s the journey of Watney.
The science of it all is pretty fascinating to watch. I’m sure there’s varying degrees of accuracy at work, but in the context of the movie, it all felt believable. This could be as much entertainment for the casual moviegoer as it could be training manual for astronauts preparing to venture to Mars.
The accuracy of the science is anchored by some pretty darn impressive special effects. Sequences of the astronauts floating outside and inside the ship in zero gravity are flawless. The scale of it all is just massive, on a reported production budget of $108 million, which hardly seems possible given what the filmmakers have pulled off here.
It’s a credit to one of the truly all-time great directors of our time at the helm, Ridley Scott. From Alien to Blade Runner to Prometheus, science fiction is hardly an unfamiliar genre territory for Scott. I was even surprised he chose to direct The Martian so soon after having already ventured into deep space with Prometheus.
Unlike Prometheus, the heart and soul of this movie isn’t about the science fiction of it all. It’s about our humanity. And this is why The Martian utilizes every bit of Scott’s directorial strengths while at the same time feeling like a completely fresh, original film.
It’s ironic that we have to venture through the cold vacuum of space onto a planet with no oxygen to find a breath of fresh air. But there it is in The Martian. It’s worth the journey.