The Martian

Poster for the movie "The Martian"

G 4 StarIf you’ve just landed on this planet and have no idea what this movie is about (see what I did there?), The Martian is the story of what happens if you accidentally stranded a botanist astronaut with a sarcastic sense of humor on the planet Mars. It’s based on the book of the same name written by Andy Weir.

Fans of the book (which I am one and have probably already rushed out to see this movie) need to know there is a 87.4% that you will really enjoy the movie. Yes, the book is more detailed, more nuanced, more geeky with science and numbers hence the 87.4%. I freely admit that I missed not having all the numbers and details in the film but there was no way all of that was ever making the final cut. Never. Yes, there are a couple of details left out of the movie – Watney losing battery power as he heads towards Aries 4 and the more personal interactions between Watney and his crewmates – but neither of those two detracted from the enjoyment of watching this film.

For those who have not read he book, just go watch it and enjoy the ride. It’s a great story full of humor and doesn’t overreach for the drama. Matt Damon (who plays Mark Watney) joins Tom Hanks as the only actors who have successfully pulled off a ‘stranded-alone-trying-to-survive-against-the-odds’ movie success. It has proven to be virtually impossible to carrying a movie with just one actor fighting for survival – just ask Sandra Bullock and Robert Redford – and Tom Hanks still is the gold standard here. Matt Damon does extremely well, showing off both his dramatic and comedic skills.

In Castaway, it was Hanks alone for close to 90 straight minutes on the screen. In The Martian, director Ridley Scott never allows that happen cutting from the drama on Mars to the drama on Earth in perfect timing. The downside of this is that you never really get the sense of total aloneness of one man on a distant planet. The upside is there is enough drama and tension spanning the universe, you don’t really miss it.

It’s hard to pick on anything that doesn’t work in the film.

Ok. I can pick on two things.

First, there is not enough use of Jessica Chastain. She plays Commander Lewis and you will recognize her from Zero Dark Thirty as well as Interstellar. Maybe it’s because I am in love with her red-hair or maybe it’s because she’s an incredible actor. Or both. The point is she is so good at being tough as nails and tender as down. She completely handles being the mission commander and there are too few scenes of her.

Second, the tension between the NASA Director played by Jeff Daniels and the Flight Director played by Sean Bean wasn’t fully developed. The tension is in the film but it’s not near as tight and deep as it needed to be. In the book, this was the central conflict on earth while Watney fought for his life on Mars. The crux of the conflict centered on telling the returning crew who left Watney on Mars what was really happening. Do you protect the 5 and sacrifice the 1 or do you risk the 5 in order to get all 6? The lives of the many versus the life of one? In the book, this conflict builds to the point of subterfuge and even mutiny against NASA. The film doesn’t completely capture this.

Neither of these issues submarine The Martian. It’s a great watch with plenty of places to laugh out loud and tear up. The supporting cast is SO GOOD. There isn’t a weak performance among any of them, although I am sure Kristen Wiig fans are going to be screaming that there should have been more of her in the film.

It’s no Interstellar in terms of dealing with deeper issues and themes, but there are plenty of opportunities to talk about what makes the human experience unique, the need for community and companionship, how humanity was never designed to live alone. One thought that got attention during the trailers but was never fully developed in the film was the idea that there is this desire in humanity to help those in need.

Overall, I enjoyed the film immensely. Makes for a great matinée date. I’m giving it 4 g’s.

The Martian is rated R for language. Check IMDb for full details but younger teens might want to steer clear.

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