I WILL SURVIVE
Review by Paul Preston
The Movie Guys
There are only a handful of actors who you’d want to be stranded with in a remote location. When stranded-with-one-actor-in-a-remote-location movies come about, Hollywood gets it right, suiting up those actors for those movies – Tom Hanks (“Cast Away”), Sandra Bullock (“Gravity”) and Will Smith (“I Am Legend”), for example. Add Matt Damon to that list, who charms the red dust off the screen in “The Martian”.
Based on the popular novel, “The Martian” actually concerns an American, Mark Watney, stranded on Mars after an accident involving his crew’s exit from the red planet leaves him behind, presumed dead. We, the viewer, know better, following Watney’s struggle to survive until a rescue crew can fetch him and return him home.
The story wisely involves a video diary so Damon can simply tell the camera (thus, the audience) how he feels and what he’s up to, and even more wisely, he does this with equal parts intelligence and humor. What could easily have been a scary story of loneliness instead plays out as a spirited tale of survival where I rooted for Damon more than any of the other actors above. They don’t shy away from Watney being funny, and that reaps huge rewards, and director Ridley Scott doesn’t sacrifice or water down other elements that make a good story to keep Watney light. This movie has pretty much everything.
Ridley Scott isn’t exactly known for his humorous, crowd-pleasing films. He took the jaunty, fee-wheeling Robin Hood and made his origin story a dour medieval French/English power struggle. “The Martian” is easily Scott’s most crowd-pleasing film ever, and his best since “Black Hawk Down”. Love or hate the stories, from “Alien” and “Blade Runner” through “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven”, Scott has always brought the highest of hi-tech effects and top-notch production values all ‘round to his films, and that tradition continues here. Mars and the complex workings of spaceships both have a welcome authenticity without being overly showy. There’s even organically-used disco music that livens up the whole scene.
What makes “The Martian” exceptional is how the high-production, Damon’s personality and the rescue mission tension all feed into what is essentially a “figurin’” movie, and make it widely appealing. Damon’s Watney (which just sounds dirty) has to survive using the scientific method over and over again to solve problems, make plans and set goals for his survival. How is this interesting? How is this FUN in the hands of Ridley Scott, the guy who made “Prometheus”? That’s the miracle.
Part miracle-maker is screenwriter Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”), the seeming heir-apparent to Joss Whedon, who keeps the dialogue crisp and maintains a respect for intelligence in all his characters, from Watney to the NASA suits to Watney’s crewmates, who have to do much figurin’ of their own to attempt to rescue their friend. This is also a miracle supporting cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Michael Peña and Kate Mara. The only odd casting seems to be Kristen Wiig in a small part that could’ve gone to anyone. She must’ve really wanted to be in a Ridley Scott film.
Scott keeps the action hopping from Mars to Earth and back without confusion and neither aspect of the story drags. The fine acting and churning plot keep the whole film buzzing throughout.
From “Mission to Mars” to “Red Planet”, portraying Mars on screen has never led to a wholly entertaining adventure. Until now. So you better get to the theater.
Oh, and since everyone else is making these comparisons, “The Martian” is more entertaining than both “Gravity” and “Interstellar”. BOOM.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Run Time: 141 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox