Monday, October 5, 2015

[Review] The Martian

The trailer for The Martian dropped when people were still trying to wrap their heads around Interstellar. And with clips of Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon engaging in some outer spacecapades, it looked as though The Martian might be an untimely Round 2. However, the film is much more accessible and less divisive than Interstellar, as director Ridley Scott leans more toward Spielbergian tone, rather than Nolan-esque.

Mark (Matt Damon) is involved in a high profile exploration on Mars, along with his fellow astronauts (played by Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, and Kate Mara). A nasty windstorm suddenly picks up, and they're forced to flee back to headquarters. But in the process, Mark gets struck with debris and disappears into the abyss. The disheartened crew assumes he's dead and begin the journey home. Little do they know, Mark emerges from the sand the next 'Sol', still alive and left alone to survive until a rescue mission (which might take at least 4 years) ensues. It goes without saying that it's an extremely difficult and complicated task, and the odds are grim, but the film's premise itself is much less complex than Interstellar's dimension transcending.

It's a gripping plot, and it never lets up. The narrative holds enough obstacles, dilemmas, and high stakes to give you gray hair. But there is a lot of humor and optimism to balance things out. However, just when Mark experiences some success, the film reminds us how fragile, dangerous, and near impossible the situation is. Back on Earth, NASA is dealing with problems as well. They need to figure out how to communicate with Mark and how the heck to get him back in one piece, all while attempting to maintain their own reputation with the public (it doesn't look good if photos of a dead body on the planet's surface release). The loaded cast on Earth includes: Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean (the film's tone is open enough to slide in a Lord of the Rings reference), and Donald Glover. They're all very solid, but in regards to Donald Glover--it's hard to buy into the idea that Troy from "Community" turned out to be an astrophysicist.

The previews mostly entailed Matt Damon calmly talking into cameras, but he actually gives a really good physical and emotional performance. We see his highs and lows, and his determination to keep going forward, even though in the back of his mind he knows that death could be a minute away. And unless it was a body stand-in, there's a dramatic weight-loss later on. That, combined with his beard growth, makes him end up looking like very unhealthy Leonardo DiCaprio by the end. As far as visuals, the film is full of beauty and danger. We get some nice terrain views of a dusted brown Mars and spacecraft spinning through the galaxy. There's a neat montage that is backed by David Bowie's "Starman", and the sequence comes at such a great time that we forgive the too on-the-nose choice of music. And the film packs an intense climax that is totally reminiscent of 2013's sensation Gravity.

I get the feeling that if we hadn't already just witnessed the technical chops and space grandeur of Interstellar and Gravity, The Martian would thrill more. Also, Neil deGrasse Tyson is probably calling out the holes and scientific inaccuracies as we speak, but it's still a hell of a story to tell.

* 8.5/10 *

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