When I last offered up an opinion about a Ridley Scott film, I expressed my (and my boyfriend’s) disappointment in Prometheus. Now, I don’t want to say he’s redeemed himself with The Martian–truly redeeming himself would require time-traveling and cleaning up the mess Prometheus was and turning it into the disturbing alien trip it could’ve and should’ve been–but he’s come pretty damn close.
The Martian follows botanist Mark Watney, who is accidentally left for dead on Mars after a sudden dust storm forces his team to abandon their mission. It’s essentially been described as Castaway in space, which really isn’t too far off. We see Mark trying to survive, and we see NASA go from thinking him dead to realizing he’s alive to figuring out how to contact him, let alone get him home before the station’s supplies run out.
The fact that this works so well when it could very, very easily drag and get boring I think is a testament to both the writing and just human problem-solving–the day before I went to see it, I caught a segment on NPR’s Science Friday show about the movie on my way home from work, and one of the things they discussed was the way the film is a testament to engineering. Even as a writer, I get that. You see basic problem-solving, with both Mark and NASA kind of moving one step at a time to figure things out. Like NPR said, it’s not so much about long-term survival, necessarily, as it is just getting through the day or overcoming the next obstacle, or at least tackling all that before thinking long-term. But I don’t think this is solely related to engineering. I think it’s a method almost all fields use, or should if they aren’t. Hell, even Pinterest “inspiration” boards–mine included–focus on taking things one step at a time rather than a huge leap forward.
And this is what makes The Martian succeed as such a simplistic film–you want to see how Mark overcomes each obstacle, how he gets through each day, and what he does next. Surprisingly, the film also excellently builds suspense that way. Once you know the stakes and how easy it is for things to go wrong and how hard it is to fix them when they do, you find yourself stressing out on Mark’s behalf, especially when things are at their most critical. I even cried a little, not that that’s hard to do with a movie.
Now, when I first heard that the movie is 2 1/2 hours long, I was a little concerned about how it could possibly go on that long. And the thing is, the pacing is excellent–the movie never once feels like it’s dragging or should’ve ended already.
I have to mention one thing Paul just brought to my attention–typical sci-fi films have one sort of asshole character who’s causing trouble and making things worse one way or another, but The Martian doesn’t have that. The closest you get to a real villain or antagonist is Mars itself. While NASA officials may disagree over exactly what to do or exactly how to do it, their reasons are clear and understandable. Though they may pose obstacles or conflict, no character can be singled out as troublesome.
The cast is all excellent. I haven’t exactly seen many of Matt Damon’s movies, but I can still day this is probably the best I’ve ever seen him, and he’s backed by a great ensemble.
Of course, the whole thing looks cool as hell in 3-D, too.
So go see The Martian. It has a great cast, a surprisingly engaging story, and proves that when Ridley Scott’s on, he’s on.