The Martian tells the story of six astronauts who are all specialists in their own field of expertise and are currently residing on our big, red next-door neighbor, Mars. There on a fact finding mission, exploring uncharted territories and all that fun stuff some time in the near future. The crew is led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and when they're unexpectedly hit by a severe sandstorm they're forced to quickly evacuate Mars, only in the midst of the thick sandstorm that rapidly descends upon them, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is reluctantly left for dead as he's seemingly killed by a rogue antenna in the storm.
Finding himself for all intents and purposes marooned on Mars, low on supplies and thought to be dead. if Watney is to survive on the inhospitable red planet, it's exactly as Watney says, "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this." and he does, to the point that it could start to feel like The Martian was one long glorified science lesson. Don't get me wrong though, I liked that, learning while being entertained, that's a part of why I like sci-fi movies so much. However the decidedly heavy emphasis on the scientific methods and theories involved could make it feel overly methodical at times. We're watching and listening to Watney explain so much science on the inboard cameras that it does begin to feel like a documentary at times. Whenever I look at movies like Apollo 13 and Armageddon, they all had many of those 'how in the hell are we going to solve this problem' moments, but they were dealt with in not such an overbearing and clinical sort of way with fleshed out protagonists that we actually cared for. I felt like that was largely missing from The Martian.
The space scenes were well done, which should be a given by now. The Mars terrain and landscape was recreated accurately, given how little I know about Mars anyway, it felt genuine to me. The 'slightly' futuristic space technology was advanced and functioned smoother and easier without losing the verisimilitude of the 'here and now'. In other words, yes, it was set in the future, but it felt not so far removed from reality as to be overly noticeable or distracting. The characters were all astonishingly paper thin though, seriously. Every single character in this movie has very little, if any character development. We know no more about these characters at the end of the movie than we do at the start, and when you consider that Matt Damon had to carry a majority of this movie all by himself, we really know nothing about him except that he's a botanist who hates disco music.
As I said, The Martian could feel extremely methodical at times, but there were some nice moments of levity and humor throughout The Martian as well, nothing too over the top, but fitting and highly effective. The score was good and I liked the recurring joke of being trapped on Mars with nothing but old disco music. It was funny, but kinda sad seeing them try use as many f words as they could without actually saying it. The book was quite profane and they tried hard to stay true to that aspect of it, but they never could, it even became unintentionally comical at some points.
The harder they tried to imply all the swear words, the more it reminded me of how obviously restricted the screenplay was. It lost a certain amount of immersion for me, like the gravity (no pun) of his situation seemed softened somehow, less dire than it should have felt. Here's this guy stranded on Mars, and it's obvious that he's throwing a fair few 'fucks' out there and they're constantly having to come up with creative new ways to convey all his fucking frustrations without ever actually saying the word. I think we actually hear two f bombs, but all the rest are censored in some way. At one point someone asks how Watney is doing and the guy says something like 'he keeps telling them to have sex with themselves' and I thought, really? Is this what it's come down to? I understand you're smart, but smart guys swear too, even in the book.
The Martian never explores the psychological effects of long term isolation, desperation, frustration either, or it does so very superficially I thought. The narrative splits between Mars and Nasa regularly, but the focus shifts towards Nasa in a big way in the latter half and was the weaker half as well. The Martian went to great lengths to show how this one man became a globally unifying experience for cooperation around the world, but that often came at the expense of any individual character development.
There were a lot of characters who simply didn't need to be there, Kristen Wiig's character was superfluous, as was Donald Glover. Pretty much the entire movie was exposition dump, after exposition dump, after exposition dump and very little else. I don't want to say The Martian was boring, because it wasn't, but I did feel like the suspense and intrigue was somewhat tempered. Without giving anything away, I thought the ending was anti-climactic. I do admire The Martian for its 'pure science' approach to sci-fi movies, but it felt too scattered, too thin character wise and ironically, too safe.
Written by - The Sentry - 13/02/2015