Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fantastic Fest 2015 Review: THE MARTIAN

The Martian.
Director: Ridley Scott.
Writer: Drew Goddard, based on the book by Andy Weir.
Actors: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Michael Peña.

The premise of the The Martian is a pretty simple survival movie. Matt Damon's Matt Watney gets stranded on Mars by his crew-mates from the Ares III mission after an emergency evacuation and must now figure out how to survive with a very limited supply of resources with help coming at its earliest in four year's time.

Director Ridley Scott takes this premise and makes the most of it with this movie based on the novel by first-time author Andy Weir. With Damon's very hilariously dry humor what would be a totally dire situation is actually much more life affirming. Rounded out by a large ensemble cast with a lot of famous actors, this is the best Scott movie in a long time.

During the movie we follow three sets of groups, first is Watney as he jerry-rigs the hell out of the NASA camp that was left behind to survive with what is left. Then there's the crew that accidentally left him behind led by Jessica Chastain's Commander Lewis who is on their way back from Mars early. Then, back on Earth we have NASA big wigs Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), Teddy Sanders (Daniels), and Mitch Henderson (Bean) who are all trying to navigate logistics, bureaucracy and science itself to try to rescue Watney.

Damon holds his own during his sections of the movie. We see that his character is very intelligent and coincidentally happens to be a botanist which is how he figures out how to plant crops on Mars. But equally important is his up-beat attitude and sense of humor. While no one could really understand what being marooned by yourself on a planet four years away from home would feel like, it's not crazy to assume that keeping one's mental health stable. When he does video journals he's cracking jokes all while spouting off seemingly-legit scientific talk and even starts billing himself as international pirate by the end of the movie.

This is also one of the few movies that could be said that 3D is a must. There are many overhead shots of the planet and the 3D makes the planet seem much more daunting and beautiful at the same time. Shot in Jordan which has red deserts, this version of Mars is one of the most beautiful that's been put on screen. In addition, to that there are scenes with dust storms and out in space that benefit greatly from the added depth.

Going off the cast list, it would be easy to assume that the relatively well-known would be distracting but they all bring their own strengths to make the movie stronger, for example Kristen Wiig brings her really dry comedic talent to her character while Jeff Daniels seems to be channeling his Will McAvoy from The Newsroom. 

The biggest problem of the movie is how it's forced to pass time. There are so many title cards telling us X months or weeks have passed and then there's various montages throughout the movie that get repetitive. It is totally understandable to use these devices given how long the story is, but it gets tiresome by the time the movie ends. And many of the characters have a tendency of being very thinly portrayed and they all fall into some kind of "mission crew" archetype with peppers of individuality thrown here and there ,but it's not quite enough to make any of the Ares or NASA crew feel like fleshed out characters

Despite it's 141 minute run time, the movie is still exciting with plenty of action sequences that are entertaining to watch. All of the actors come together to make a stronger movie while not being overly flashy, there's some of the best use of the 3D in a long time. Plus, the script by Drew Goddard is strong with it's emphasis on the will to survive and persevere. Simply put this is one of the best space movies in a long time.


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