So, in my last post I promised I’d actually talk about The Martian, the movie – not just about random little details about the American space program or trivia about actors that were connected with The Martian. The short story is that I really liked this movie, and I think I’m liking it more as time goes on. This I think is pretty significant for me as I feel like often there are movies that I like when I’m watching them, but later as I’m thinking of it I realize all sorts of things that bother me about it. With The Martian, so far there’s none of that. There’s really not a thing that sticks out as just being kind of stupid, which really, with me, almost never happens.
In fact, one of the things I like about the movie is how intelligent everyone behaves. There are a couple of moments tat the beginning, when crew of the Ares III (a fictional, of course, manned mission to the surface of Mars) is already on the red planet, when it appears for a bit that the characters are going to do stupid stuff that will get them in trouble. For example, a couple of the crew are annoying the others because of their “witty” banter, so one of the other officers turns off their radios. Oh no, I thought! Is this what’s going to get Matt Damon’s Mark Watney left behind when his crew leaves? How stupid! But no, I was tricked – that had nothing to do with it.
Later, a fierce storm threatens to topple their ship over. Some of the crew want to wait a bit longer even though protocols clearly say that they need to abandon their mission in these circumstances. Oh no, I thought, it’s because the mission commander is going to delay leaving that their going to get into trouble. But again, I was wrong. The Mission Commander (played by Jessica Chastain) decides to abandon the mission right away to give her team the best chances of survival.
So when the accident does occur that leaves Watney behind, it feels like an honest one–part of the uncontrollable perils of space travel. And so it feels like the movie has really earned its tension.
Similarly, there are no evil characters in the movie, no villains. The closest thing you get is the NASA director Teddy Sanders, played by Jeff Daniels, who is a bit of a cold-hearted SOB, but he, with his concern over NASA’s future, never does anything to endanger or harm anyone. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite, as he often drives people more intensely than they want to do what needs to happen to save the marooned astronaut.
It’s been mentioned by someone that this movie could be seen as a bit of a combination of Castaway and Apollo 13. This is true, and not just because it’s about trying to rescue someone who is trapped alone on an alien planet. The movie manages to blend the general sensibilities of both. You’ve got all the “lone survivor” aspects from Castaway, with many highlight scenes of the movie showing us the lengths that Watney has to go to survive. Matt Damon, of course, is the real star of this movie, and his character is a likable one. Watney seems like a good guy, so we genuinely cheer when he figures out how to grow potatoes, or how to convert his short-range land vehicle into something he can travel thousands of kilometers in, or how he can even communicate with earth. Mark Watney’s sense of humor and amusing pride in his situation (he talks about being the first to do everything that he does, every day) is something I can relate to. I might take the same sort of pride if it was me in his shoes. Of course, if it was me, I’d be dead in no time since my particular blogging and film making skill set would not get me far in the unforgiving Martian environment.
But as much as it is a “man alone” movie, The Martian also has Apollo 13’s whole ensemble cast thing going on. This surprised me a bit more, as I guess I expected all the other actors to be in small but pivotal roles. It turned out that many of them had large but pivotal roles, and that for long chunks of the movie, the action would focus on them and not Watney himself. So while Watney was eking out his miserable existence on Mars, we’d watch a whole bunch of NASA guys trying to help him. And we also spend time with Watney’s crew, who for most of the film are en route back to earth, not knowing at first that their colleague is actually still alive. It is thanks to the combined work of all of these guys that the final attempt to save Watney is even possible. The point is not driven home as strongly as it was in Apollo 13, but the development of all of these characters is a welcome addition to the movie.
It’s been a long time since I really liked a Ridley Scott film (although to be honest there are many I haven’t seen). Gladiator is of course popular, but I wasn’t a big fan. I’ve got to go back to 1991’s Thelma & Louise before I find something that really stands out to me (although it’s been that lone since I’ve seen the movie). But of course, the guy did Alien and Blade Runner. Those films were both great but kind of depressing. It’s nice to see him on something like The Martian that not only has so much hope and positivity in it, but is also a top-notch piece of work.
I’d recommend it pretty wholeheartedly–I liked it from the beginning, and the more I think about it, the better it becomes. I liked it from the beginning, and the more I think of it, the better it becomes.
It’s nice to have that sort of experience once in a while.
Although maybe someone might think it’s bit slow or something?