The Martian Review

So I watched The Martian…

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I’m busy trying to condense my thoughts on this movie so I can start this review but it’s proving to be quite a challenge. This movie was such an emotional rollercoaster that I’m still struggling to process all of it. Long story short, this movie blew my mindhole!

Okay, basic plot: During a mission on Mars, a five man astronaut-crew is forced to evacuate the planet due to a fierce storm. One of the astronauts – Mark Watney (Matt Damon) – is struck by debris and presumed dead. Watney survives the storm and wakes to the terrible realisation that his crew have left the planet without him. With limited supplies and almost no way to contact Earth, Watney must now use his intelligence, will and spirit to try to survive with the knowledge that even if he does survive, it will be years before anyone can come get him.

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I love how quickly this movie immerses you in its plot. The time from the opening credits to Watney been marooned on Mars takes less than ten minutes. It doesn’t dawdle and plunges you straight into the action. Another thing I loved about this movie was how it introduces its characters – every time someone new comes up on screen, a piece of text would appear stating their name and designation. This allowed for the omission of clunky exposition explaining who everyone is and allowed the story to push forward addressing the problem at hand. This was especially useful when you think about the number of characters in this movie: there’s Watney, the four members of his crew, teams of scientists at NASA as well as the upper brass of NASA.

Now this movie is quite long with a run time just shy of two-and-a-half hours but you never feel the weight of the run time because the movie hardly drags. There are always new obstacles and challenges that need to be addressed. You never have time to settle on one thing for too long because you have to start dealing with a new problem. You, therefore, always feel on edge because you’re not sure what’s going to go wrong next. The movie is extremely reminiscent of Gravity, not just in setting but also in terms of how the tension in the movie never declines. Even when everything is going right, you can never fully appreciate it because you know, in a second, everything can change and things can go back to hell.

This movie is very well paced and extremely consistent with regards to its style of storytelling. Ridley Scott deserves a round of applause for the way he chooses to capture this story and convey it to the audience. The choices he makes with regard to camera-work is inspired. There are a host of surveillance cameras in the habitat where Watney lives and also on his space suit. Watney also keeps a video log which serves as a diary where he shares his thoughts. Scott switches between these cameras and the regular ‘Hollywood’ cameras to perfectly encapsulate Watney’s fight for survival. It really added something to the story because it allows you to be both participant and observer in Watney’s struggle. The visuals in this movie are also a delight and Scott does an amazing job making you feel like you’re on Mars. More than that, he used the grand landscapes and endless horizon of the planet to flawlessly illustrate the desolation and isolation that Watney must feel.

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This movie reminded me a lot of Cast Away, in that, at the end of the day, when the story is stripped down to its core, it’s about the endeavour of the human spirit. There’s this great scene early in the movie where Watney has just assessed his situation and knows the difficulty of survival and simply states to himself, “I’m not going to die here.”. It’s such a great moment because from there on out, you’re invested in his success. That spirit of defiance is what makes a great hero. He faces insurmountable odds and has almost no resources to conquer these odds but he has this internal sense of faith that he will overcome. That’s the beauty of the human spirit, isn’t it? That defiance to overwhelming odds is the beauty of this movie. It all rests on Watney’s spirit (and of course, Damon’s portrayal thereof) and this spirit is incredibly easy to connect to.

This movie is also quite funny and with a plot as morose as being stranded on a foreign planet with the nearest hope of help been 140 million miles away, it really needed some levity. Matt Damon does a phenomenal job as this movie’s lead. The majority of the screentime is devoted to him as he struggles to survive on Mars and contact Earth. Damon has to create tension and humour all on his own and he has this amazing charm and authenticity which helps his character never feel boring. He’s the movie’s emotional centre and will have you rooting for him from the very first second.

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The remainder of the cast aren’t slouches either with people like Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejjiofor and Michael Peña impressing. The cast is quite large and is an all-star company but the characters being portrayed never feel overshadowed by the fame of the actors. It’s strange that I wasn’t distracted by the star power of the cast, must be testament to the quality of their performances. I think the only acting that I didn’t like was that of Donald Glover. I’m a huge fan of Glover, especially his musical career but his character – a NASA astronomer – is far too cliche and Glover’s portrayal thereof is incredibly bland. He just didn’t feel like an organic piece of the movie or its story.

Overall, The Martian is a wonderful space adventure-drama. Look it borrows heavily from Gravity and Apollo 13 at times but it still manages to keep its individual identity. It had me on the edge of my seat and had me cheering near the end. I loved watching it and suggest you get to a cinema so you can take it in – it’s literally out of this world. 8/10

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