Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Movie Review #320: "The Martian" (2015)

Movie"The Martian"
Ticket Price: $9.75
Director: Ridley Scott
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes
Image Source
After a sand and wind storm hits Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is left stranded and presumed dead after being hit by flying debris, causing the rest of the crew to abort the mission without him aboard. Watney must now find ways to stay alive, find a way to contact NASA, and attempt to survive the possible years it may take for a rescue mission to arrive on the planet.

We had pretty high expectations for "The Martian" and it would really be hard not to based on the full-on marketing assault in the month's leading up to the film. There has been hefty buzz going around, and many people have said this film is a faithful adaptation of what is said to be one of the best sci-fi books at least in the last 20 years, maybe even ever. As per usual, we haven't read the book and can't comment on how similar they are, nor do we really care how similar they are since the film is one person's interpretation of the text. All we care about is what winds up on screen, and to be honest, what we saw was a little more than disappointing. BigJ and I disagree a little in our rating of this film, but we were both a bit unsatisfied. This is not to say "The Martian" is bad because it's not, but it simply didn't live up to the overwhelming expectations and hype set before us. We're not saying any of this because we're contrarians or hipsters, far from it, in fact. As movie reviewers, we have a duty to report and go with our gut opinions, and while most people have sung this movie's praises as a 10/10, best of the best film, to us, it's not that incredible.

First off, it is one of the better films Ridley Scott has done in a while, but that isn't exactly the highest bar considering his recent works. Above and beyond, the best part of this film are its visuals, this BigJ and I both agree on wholeheartedly. They are spectacular, much like those of "Interstellar" last year. Mars is portrayed as an epic, vast desert of nothing but craters, rocks, red dirt, and valleys. It seemed extremely realistic, even though we've never been. *insert rim-shot here* We saw the movie in 2D, as always, and it looks incredible there, but we can only imagine how eye-popping these visuals would have been in 3D. We guarantee this movie's visuals will be nominated at the Oscars in 2015 and it is very much worthy of the accolades in this respect. Moving forward, there are also some nice quippy comedy moments and the movie as a whole is surprisingly and shockingly humorous. For a person to be stranded on Mars all alone, Mark Watney, played by the charming Matt Damon, sure has a sense of humor about it all! Talking mostly to himself or to a camera, which who knew Go-Pros were so reliable even in interplanetary space travel, Damon captures the spirit of a man trying to keep himself alive as best he can in a comedic sense. Luckily, Watney as a character was the botanist of their manned mission to Mars, and if he had been, say, the mathematician, or the chemist, or the computer genius, he might not have survived as long as he did. I really liked Damon's performance and thought he performed the hell out of what he was given. BigJ disagrees with me a lot when it comes to our breakdown of the movie, especially Damon's performance. He thought it was good, not great. Apart from a little bit of depth about Watney on a surface level, where this film is most lacking is in its character development. Every other character has paper thin development and not one of them beyond Watney has an arc or change in anyway. They all fit into their stereotype at the beginning and carry these traits through to the end of the movie. There is also no emotional gravity to the situation. There are only tasks to be performed and a predetermined character to perform them. When someone achieves something, even if it was a huge gain in progress to bringing Watney back from Mars, we never really felt that big swell of emotion that makes you want to cheer for joy at what's going on on screen.

The story itself is pretty predictable and has little tension or suspense to it. There is a lot of exposition going on as many characters constantly explain what they are going to do and then they get it done, sometimes on screen and sometimes off screen to save time. It is an extremely simple story, and while the science jargon is immersive and deep, it's just that, jargon. There is really no complexity or nuance to it at all, and though some of it can be engaging, like the portion where Watney must find a way to grow food on a planet where nothing grows, when combined with this straightforward survivor tale, we couldn't help but feel underwhelmed. What we wanted was something more emotional, and what we were lacking was the fragility of Watney's experience as well as the subsequent human spirit, the rallying together of people and nations to save one soul that Damon so vigorously touted on various talk shows leading up to the film's release. We missed this completely and didn't feel many inklings of an emotional punch apart from a scene where Watney was talking about his parents. It's not just from Damon's character, either. Many of the other characters feel very flippant about what's going on, and it might just be a lack of good acting, but either way, that's how it translated onto the screen.

In a game of science, emotion, tension, and human sacrifice, we expect to feel all four of these things in a movie like "The Martian." We felt one out of four of these things. We can't help but feel like the ending was rushed a bit, too. For as much time as it spends trying to figure out a solution to get Watney home, once the day has come for him to leave Mars and attempt his journey back, it feels bing-bang-boom-finished. There's really no conviction. We wanted to be able to stand up and cheer for Mark Watney and his crew, we wanted to be able to cry when things went wrong, and we wanted to be on the edge of our seats the entire time, but we weren't. It's a good movie, but to us, it's not great, and we're sorry about it. For all the science it uses, it eschews emotional opportunities and even minor character development in the process. We're bummed about this one.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~94%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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