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The Martian - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Martian
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-

I'll just get this out of the way first: The Martian is being lauded for its scientific accuracy, and that is largely immaterial to me. As a film and movie lover, what's most important is if a movie like this works as cinematic entertainment. And it does, although by that measure, in spite of it apparently being riddled with inaccuracies, Gravity was a far superior movie-going experience. This one comes in closer to Interstellar, another movie that makes more of an effort toward objective realism but suffers a bit of dryness as a result.

The Martian sits between those two science fiction examples, though, and still serves as Ridley Scott's best directorial offering in a great many years, finally proving he's capable of not phoning it in as he ages. (I did also give Prometheus a B+ in 2012, which I stand by even though it's sacrilege to many -- fans of science and Alien alike -- but I'd still say The Martian is a better film.) Even to layman's eyes, the clear attention to realism is impressive.

It's also wonderfully shot, by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, but I can tell you not to bother seeing this in 3D. This is a movie much more about ingenuity than it is about spectacular visuals, and paying the premium to add another dimension won't be cost effective. The Martian features a huge, all-star cast for a movie about a man stranded alone on an entire planet -- no need for Wilson the volleyball here -- and a whole lot of time is spent with NASA directors and scientists working through Martian problems in offices and labs back on Earth. There's no need for added visual depth there; the depth of dialogue is enough.

Of course, this is still very much Matt Damon's movie. No one's going to be throwing any Oscars at him for this, but he carries it well, as astronaut Mark Watney, the man assumed dead after getting hit by debris during a sudden storm on a Mars mission. His entire crew, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), is back in space and headed back to Earth when Mark wakes up in his space suit, surprised as anyone to be alive after a small metal rod has pierced his abdomen -- but the lodged metal combined with clotted blood has protected him from the suit breech. Watching him limp back to the building he has to learn how to survive in, and then attend to that wound, is just the first of several horrifying things he has to endure.

The Martian makes many massive time jumps in its story, just out of necessity: it takes a very long time to get back and forth between Earth and Mars. There's enough time for a memorial for Mark back home before anyone even realizes he's still alive, after which his rescue captures the imagination of the entire world -- which is likely also realistic, but also one of the few very Hollywood-ized aspects of the movie. On the flip side, Mark has no wife or children to pine after, which is very unusual for a protagonist. Ridley Scott fills that void with Melissa and her crew members video chatting with their own families, especially once they decide to turn around and go back to get Mark, adding over 500 days to their trip. Incidentally, the exterior shots of that ship they're piloting back home (and then back to Mars again), are a lot of fun to watch.

It's not really a spoiler to say that Mark Watney survives. That's not the point of this movie, to find out if he makes it; it's to see how he makes it. And how everyone back on Earth, from the director of NASA (Jeff Daniels) down to lower-level scientists and engineers and even their Director of Public Relations (Kristen Wiig), helps with his problem solving. It's kind of like Apollo 13 on Mars: What can Mark Watney do, with his limited supplies, to stay alive? This makes it less a thriller for movie buffs and more likely to be fun for people who like to "science the shit" (Mark Watney's words) out of things.

To its credit, The Martian is the kind of movie with the potential to inspire kids to get into science fields. As a film it's nowhere near in the same league as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, but few films since have had the same kind of attention to detail, which makes it inspiring for all the right reasons.

And Mark Watney, as a character, is unusually accessible in such a context. He acknowledges almost certain death from the beginning, but maintains a sense of humor. It makes the tone of the story feel slightly uneven at times, but it makes sense as a survival technique. Most of all, Mark just occupies his time -- of which he has a lot -- facing his obstacles and calculating how to mitigate them. He grows and eats a lot of potatoes, using a process both disgusting and fascinating. Things go wrong and he deals with massive setbacks. The huge crowds back on Earth cheering him on might be a little hokey, but you can't help but join them.

Matt Damon considers how fucked he is in THE MARTIAN.

Overall: B+
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