October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
The Martian (2015)
Starring: Matt Damon and pretty much everyone else who’s been in a movie in the past two years.
Spoiler-Free Synopsis: Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of one of the first manned missions to Mars. When a sandstorm endangers the crew and forces them to scrub out early, he is presumed dead from an injury and left behind with limited supplies, no ability to contact Earth, and nearly four years till the next mission to Mars. Watney has no choice but to try to science his way to survival.
Okay, okay, even with a pretty broad definition this isn’t a Halloween movie. There are no Martian monsters or paranormal happenings. The only bogeymen here are the laws of physics and the harsh conditions of the planet itself. However it is a sci-fi movie and a very thrilling ride and it’s also the only movie I watched on October 3rd, so here we are.
I read the book fairly recently, a book written by a software engineer using crowd-sourced fact checking and a computer algorithm, so that was fresh in my mind as I watched. The book was fascinating because it really should have been quite boring. Pages were devoted to how many calories Mark would need to grow to sustain his life and how many square feet of soil it would take to do do, or to the detailed chemical reaction necessary to produce enough water to feed his crops. It was painstaking, yet riveting, partially because the voice of the main character was so strong and partially because the attention detail and accuracy itself was refreshing. Yet there were some serious pacing and structural issues to the book that were greatly improved in the movie.
For fans of the book, the movie adheres very closely to the original plot while better balancing the Mars story line with what was happening on Earth and on the Hermes, the ship that had brought Mark’s crew to Mars. A lot of the hyper-detailed problem solving descriptions are removed or simplified, but the main message of using knowledge of science and engineering to overcome any obstacle remains. Despite these omissions, it remains on of the most science-based, pro-rational thinking movies I’ve ever seen. I admit to being just nerdy enough to really miss all the minutiae, I realize including it would not have made a good movie.
I don’t want spoil anything for anyone, so I’ll keep this brief. I found The Martian to be smart and enjoyable. There was a lot of humor, a lot of action, and really gorgeous scenes of the Martian landscape as well of space. Although by its very nature The Martian is focused on Matt Damon’s character, the large supporting cast is strong (and fairly diverse) and not one of them fails to turn in an excellent and believable performance. Sean Bean even survives the movie and gets in a Lord of the Rings reference. Jessica Chastain makes a strong but compassionate commander of the Mars mission, Kristen Wiig brings a light touch of humor to the only non-scientist in the NASA contingent, and Donald Glover’s scattered astrophysicist is a bit of a stereotyped nerd but completely endearing (just to name a few of many).
I admit having Ridley Scott at the helm made me wary, given his recent track record, but in this case he produced a movie that is true to its source material, filled with joy as well as tension, and really just very fun to watch. But what this movie is at it’s core is optimistic, about humanity and about our future. There are no bad guys and there is very little cynicism. The Martian believes not just in science and logic, not just in human ingenuity, but in the basic goodness of human beings and shows us a world in which those traits, when coupled together, can accomplish almost anything.
Quality: 9.5 Donald Glover with a staplers out of 10. Nearly perfect.
Entertainment Value: 9 Pathfinders out of 10. Plenty of action, not too preachy, and rarely dragged.