- on Friday, 02 October 2015 14:30
- by Frank Wilkins
Amongst the many memorable moments that occur during director Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian, is one particularly moving episode that perfectly illustrates that the director “gets it” and that his film has been constructed with loads of loving care and meticulous attention to detail.
The scene involves a rather innocuous visual montage of survival preparations by stranded martian astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), as he formulates a plan to survive on the inhospitable alien planet. As is always the case with movie montages, an appropriate song plays over the action emphasizing the emotional impact of the scene.
But in this case, the scene is enhanced by what might be the least expected song but results in one of the most greatly appreciated moments of the entire film – as understated as it is. No, it’s not Elton John’s Rocket Man, Steve Miller’s Space Cowboy, or even David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Those would be too obvious. I won’t spoil it for you here, but let’s just say you’d need to go way down on your list of possible candidates. The moment is just one of many in Scott’s outstanding adventure that, not coincidentally, also happens to be based on some very sound science theories.
As the film opens, we join Watney and his 5 crew mates on the red planet during their 18th Martian day (known as Sols) as a particularly ferocious storm is approaching. All hell breaks loose and through a series of unfortunate incidents, Watney is left behind, presumed dead by his commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). Lewis and her crew, including mission pilot Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), tech specialist Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), and chemist Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie), are now faced with the guilt of leaving a fallen comrade behind, and are in a very dark place as they face many months of travel to get back home to Earth.
In the meantime, as NASA scientists peruse their satellite images of the martian surface, they notice activity and movement around the abandoned pressurized canvas living structure (known as a Hab). The activity is coming from Watney who apparently survived the ordeal and finds himself stranded on the surface of Mars. With only meager supplies meant to last a crew of six for 68 sols, he must draw upon his ingenuity and spirit to find a way to make his rations last for 400 sols and to let Earth know he is alive.
What initially feels like the makings of a story about depravation, starvation, and the creeping ravages of cabin fever that all lead to an eventual death (after all, help is a few years and a few million miles away), is instead the ultimate survival story about how we humans must respond to unimaginable duress and isolation with grace and determination.
Watney’s coping device is his wit and self-deprecating humor in the face of impossible odds as he records his dealings and state of mind on a video log for posterity. His perfectly balanced humor is also a much-welcomed bit of relief for us from the action’s near-relentless intensity. His witty zingers give us insight into his emotional state and invincible spirit to survive against insurmountable odds. It’s also a pretty cool way of providing an active voice-over to fill us in on the complexities of the science involved with his survival.
The film’s friendly and approachable tone comes from Andy Weir’s novel that originated as an online serial and $1 amazon buy but was eventually picked up by a major publisher. Screenwriter Drew Goddard strips the nerdy tech-talk (Weir was originally a computer programmer), leaves the meticulously researched science and math, and winds up with a brilliantly sculpted speculative fiction piece that inspires us about human nature, gives a perfect demonstration of the importance of humor in the face of adversity, and hopefully inspires some of the youngsters about the importance of science.
Though Damon captivates us with his one-man show in the film’s first third, we get frequent breaks from the Mars chaos as the narrative hops back and forth from the developing Mars situation to the one on the ground at NASA headquarters and California’s Jet Propulsion Lab where a bunch of brainiacs – led by Jeff Daniels as NASA director – are in constant McGyver mode while struggling to formulate plans to bring their boy back home to Earth. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Kristen Wiig round out the cast of earth-bound heroes. There’s even a self-reverential Lord of the Rings joke involving Sean Bean that nearly brings down the house.
The Martian will eventually find itself planted amongst the best in Ridley Scott’s bulging anthology as it is perfectly paced, visually stunning, and mentally challenging. And despite its two-hour-plus runtime it never feels bloated like many of his other “epics.” It’s one of the few films that demands to be viewed in the 3D format, not for throwing objects at our faces, but for emphasizing the breadth, depth, and isolated beauty of the stunning martian landscape. Even though we know Watney is the only human left on Mars, there’s an unmistakably palpable sense of another imposing presence that comes from the planet itself thanks to Ridley Scott’s brilliant storytelling and those goofy glasses.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.
Runtime: 141 mins
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
Genre: Sci-fi | adventure
Tagline: Bring him home.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this."
Distributor: 20th Centure Fox
Release Date: October 2, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 12, 2016
Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring "the Martian" home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney's safe return. Based on a best-selling novel, and helmed by master director Ridley Scott
Available on Blu-ray - January 12, 2016
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin (Simplified)
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); UV digital copy; iTunes digital copy; Digital copy
Region Encoding: Region-free playback
With gloriously detailed and specific results, 20th Century Fox releases The Martian with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Colors practically burst forward from the screen with this digitally shot dynamic-looking transfer. The details are with purpose and specific. Bold comes to mind. Scott's frequent collaborator, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, sharpens things with a movie that is designed for the HD market as its specifications basically highlights every single grain of red sand on the surface of Mars. Black levels are deep and solid and shadows hold their lines very well. The sound – represented here by a very robust lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track – is excellent and includes David Bowie's "Starman" from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album.
I’m predicting a Special Edition release of The Martian sometime in the near future because – without a commentary – the selections here just don’t cut it. Interview heavy, the supplementals are basic stuff and merely cover the animatics in the movie, the casting, the costumes, a series of faux documentaries concerning the events in the movie, and a gag reel.
- Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction (9 min)
- Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes (14 min)
- Gag Reel (7 min)
- Ares III: Refocused (17 min)
- Ares III: Farewell (4 min)
- The Right Stuff (3 min)
- Ares: Our Greatest Adventure (3 min)
- Leave Your Mark (1 min)
- Bring Him Home (2 min)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Production Art Gallery (17 min)