Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review: The Martian

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Much like Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity," Ridley Scott's "The Martian" is a story about a soul stranded in space, although the cast of Scott's film is significantly larger and the space in which the lead character survives is less confined. It's one of the director's better films in a while, although I liked "Prometheus" and thought "American Gangster" was woefully underrated.

In the film, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist on a manned mission to Mars who gets left behind after his crew, which includes Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara, believe him to be dead. The film juggles two plotlines - Watney's attempts to stay alive via growing a garden in a greenhouse he creates on the red planet and NASA's attempts to send a rescue mission.

As a one-man show, at least in his own plotline, Damon gives a strong performance, portraying a character who uses humor and scientific know-how to prevent him from giving in to the overwhelming odds of his survival. And the NASA crew which includes Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kristen Wiig, is faced with the "Saving Private Ryan" conundrum: is it worth risking the lives of a group of people to save the life of one?

More so than any other recent sci-fi that comes to mind (well, maybe "Interstellar"), "The Martian" is heavy on the science and although I don't understand some of the concepts presented in the film (I, alas, was not a science major), it's refreshing to see a film that puts so much credence in it and isn't afraid to risk alienating some viewers by delving deeply into scientific concepts.

Although the film looks great, Scott and company do not rely too heavily on special effects here as most other movies about space exploration likely would. First and foremost, this is a character drama and human interest story, so the emphasis is on the storytelling, not CGI.

There has been a recent renewal of interest in space travel - at least in the movies - through films such as "Gravity," "Interstellar" and, now, this one. And all three of these films have captured the terror, but also the wonder, of the galaxy. I really enjoyed "The Martian." It takes a little while to become completely invested in it, but once you are, it's a riveting and tense drama about survival, loyalty and courage.

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