By Peter Roslovich
As the film begins the music comes to a slow crawl as the sun dawns upon the planet of Mars, and the title appears on-screen in a fashion eerily reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s 1979 Science Fiction Classic Alien. In fact, the director of the film, Ridley Scott, is considered one of the most versatile living directors today and the influence of his other 3 Science Fiction films are found in his most recent one, The Martian. In fact, the design of the space suits is clearly inspired by those from Alien and Prometheus and many of the environments and shots are very similar to the latter. For example, there are scenes in both films were the characters must perform surgery on themselves and how Scott films both of these scenes are similar in that he focuses on the area being operated on instead of on the character (to a very gruesome extent). The storms in both films are also very similar in their look and feel; both storms seem to consume the characters inside of them and are made up of rocks and sand instead of rain. However, besides in a technical sense, the films could not be more different.
The Martian revolves around the basic premise of an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) being stranded on Mars and forced to survive. It’s a classic survival story but set on Mars. For most of the film, we are following Mark and his attempts to survive on Mars, which means for the film to work we must like Mark as a character to have any interest in his survival. Thankfully, Matt Damon manages to pull off the performance with flying colors. He manages to make Mark not only intelligent and resourceful, but a very funny and relatable character. We get glimpses of his persona through recordings that Mark makes during his time on Mars. They give insight into his mind, what he is thinking and what he is planning to do next. The recordings make it feel more personal, as if you are there on Mars with Mark, listening to his constant witty remarks and thoughtful planning. Through a combination of excellent writing, acting, and directing, Mark Watney comes to life on-screen as not only a character, but almost a friend to the audience, and it makes us cringe just to see misfortune come his way. He is the centerpiece of the film and rightfully so!
However, the film is split between the perspective of three groups: NASA control, Mark Watney, and the crew of the Ares III that left Mark on Mars, thinking he was dead. NASA control is Mark’s story from the perspective of the people back on Earth attempting to bring him back home. Here, a colorful cast of characters all works together to attempt to bring him home, yet conflict arises here as well. The main conflict comes from three people who all have different jobs and needs. Authoritarian Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) is the head of NASA and wishes to bring Mark home with minimal controversy and without hurting NASA’s budget and reputation. Emotional Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is the head of manned missions to Mars is very emotional in his attempts to rescue Mark yet he still wishes to not compromise further missions to Mars. Finally, there is the blunt Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) who is the director of the Ares missions to Mars. He says Mark must be retrieved by all means necessary. What the film does very well is that it does not portray any of these characters in a negative light, but shows that they have their own ways of dealing with a massive problem with one goal in mind: bringing Mark home. Many of the characters are also very nerdy in their own unique ways. And although it does a lot to show their personalities, it fights the old nerd stereotype seen in most films. The other group, which is the crew, are less noteworthy since they only come into prominence in the third act and most of them aren’t as developed as characters. It is said that some of them have families and each has a role on the ship that distinguishes them but they are certainly not as interesting as Mark or NASA control. Making these people interesting accompanies the centerpiece of Mark Watney to create a full story shown from multiple perspectives.
The writing is really the glue that keeps the whole movie together and what makes it fantastic! What is noticeable from the beginning is that the film uses much more scientific dialogue than most other sci-fi films. Many of the concepts in the movie are still far in the realm of Scientific Fiction, but the explanations given are what make everything seem far less far-fetched. A big part of this was that NASA was very involved in production, as they had seen an opportunity to influence more young people to become Astronauts. The film also has a few underlying themes that work well in it’s favor. The first being a very simple one that has been explored in everything from Robinson Crusoe to Cast Away, and that is the human will to survive. This concept is always entertaining in seeing how people find ways to live and constantly thinking about how to solve the next problem. In essence, this is what The Martian is all about. It is about a man who is constantly solving problems to survive, and it makes a very entertaining and a thought provoking viewing. It makes the audience think about what they would do in that situation and if they would be able to survive. The second theme is a subtler, but more powerful one. In the context of the film, this is the first time that a man got stuck on another planet, the film shows that when somebody is stuck on another planet, barriers between us break because it is not an American who is stuck somewhere, but a human. The film explores the idea of what would happen if the world comes together as people to try to save another person. This quality of the film makes it a very feel-good film and one that focuses on the good of humanity.
Consensus: Smart, funny, feel-good, and scientific, The Martian is not only one of Ridley Scott’s best films in recent memory, but one of his greatest films of all time. Through its fantastic acting and clever writing it manages to put a new, fresh and modern spin on an idea that is centuries old. Even if parts can become silly and some characters are one-dimensional, it is one of the best films of this year and definitely not a film-going experience to miss.
Photos taken from imdb.com