For so long, our views of space and what the cosmos held were what we knew from Star Wars and Star Trek. Today, we have on-planet pictures of Mars and finely detailed photos from a fly-by of Pluto. With so much current data regarding space from the technologies available to us, it was only a matter of time before a detailed, very plausible film emerged regarding life in space. Recent films such as Interstellar and Sunshine have touched on the subject. Now, director Ridley Scott brings us one of the great films of 2015 to look at human life on Mars in The Martian.
A group of astronauts are taking part in NASA’s Ares III mission where they are living and doing research on the red planet: Mars. When an unexpected storm threatens the team of astronauts, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) makes the decision to leave the planet. However, in the chaos of the storm, astronaut/botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is blown away and apparently killed, with the others boarding the ship and leaving. What they don’t know is that Watney is alive, and being the scientist and fighter he is, decides to fight to live, using science to survive on a planet not made for human life. Another mission will be there in over a year, so he must “science the $%^&” out of it and find a way to survive until then. But on a planet where food does not grow, and without communication capabilities, will the botanist be able to find a way to overcome all odds and live to tell the story?
The Martian is science fiction – with a large dose of reality – that is not dumbed down but, instead, made easy to understand and enjoyable to digest. Much of the understanding comes from Damon’s character, basically making video blogs of his days and explaining what he’s doing so that anyone can understand. If there was extensive science talk and themes we just weren’t quite grasping, we’d be referring to Interstellar. This varies in that it is much more audience friendly and, in turn, enjoyable. Ridley Scott has found a way to balance the science with the humanity of a person being left behind and still finds the humor in the situation, mainly through the dialogue of Damon’s character. Credit must be given to Dariusz Wolski for his job on the cinematography, bringing Mars to life and putting us front and center of a planet we only see pictures of from rovers. Nothing feels out of place and you actually feel you’re there on the red planet based on everything you’ve seen from media past and present.
For about the first half of the film, you may have déjà vu of an older film, Cast Away, as Damon’s character is all alone. But instead of talking to a volleyball named Wilson, he talks to a camera, to our humorous delight. Damon is front and center in this film and, while it is an ensemble cast in many ways, Damon more or less carries the load for half of the film. We are there with him daily through his highs and lows, from him naming himself the “smartest man on the planet” to the pain of losing valuable resources and, possibly, his life. At no point does his performance come off as unbelievable, which keeps us entrenched on Mars with him as he fights to survive. Kristen Wiig has plenty of good, small moments, and Sean Bean is great as the NASA guy in charge of the crew’s welfare. Plus, he has a great little Lord of the Rings joke that will give you a nice chuckle. Chewitel Ejiofor has a strong performance as the mission leader and the rest of the cast including Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, and Mackenzie Davis, all have their moments to shine. A strong cast with strong performances, given a great script, all yields great success for a finished product.
The Martian is one of the best films you’ll see this year. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be on edge and you’ll exhale with relief. You’ll buy into everything each actor is selling and you’ll be full engrossed with the story and the plot as it unfolds. You’ll learn about humanity, the limits the human body can take, and all the things we can accomplish when we put our mind to something and fight with the thought that there is no giving up. The absolute best thing about the film is how inspiring it really is. So even if you’re burnt out on space movies, please take this trip to Mars, as it will be well worth the journey.