Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: One eight of Interstellar, Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Potatoes.
Release: October, 2015
Review Author: Adam
Rating: 3.5/5 cans of Guinness
Sadly, The Martian, is not out of this world, but it’s close. Films based off a book are always going to be hard to get right and I applaud with all of my drunken energy any director who has the balls to try because the critics, as you may have guessed, are everywhere and it’s just painfully fashionable in these circles to take pot shots at directors who give it a go. That said; I’m going to take a few pot shots.
I cannot fault the film’s visuals or photography and the acting is everything it needed to be to make this work. The cast was very well chosen and it was nice to see Wiig stretch her wings into a more serious role, alongside the epitome of someone who changed gears in their style, Jeff Daniels, they make for a great duo of bureaucracy and play well the decision makers behind the fun that is NASA blasting people into space.
In terms of PR for NASA I think this film has done it a lot of favours by showing the corporate side of it and highlighting the sheer amount of work involved in sending someone to space and the compromises they have to make. In the film, Daniels who plays the Director of NASA makes a great statement that is a very well articulated stab at how the Government views space exploration as it sits in the priority lists and says how NASA work so hard to cut costs and compromise safety to make space exploration cheaper and then as soon as something goes wrong they get blamed for it.
Ridley Scott got something very right that I haven’t seen him get right for quite some time, and that is some phenomenal parallels in the form of a montage. The scene when communication between home and Mars starts to work is just a beautiful series of flawless editing that really shaved some much needed run time off this long film.
To say that this film wasn’t enjoyable would be wrong, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say I was a tad disappointed after it with some of the things they didn’t do and some of the artistic and thematic choices that Scott in all of his intergalactic wisdom made. Before I start taking shots though, one thing I was very happy about was the pace of the opening act, there’s very little set up and the action and the story just starts. For the first time in months I’ve seen a film that paces the exposition and the story out perfectly and treats its audience as intelligent enough to work out what’s going on with the things it’s seeing. Major credit given for that.
I have very few faults with the film as a visual piece but as a story it really doesn’t lend itself too well to screen. The overall theme of perseverance and the application and importance of knowledge in a survival situation gets very rammed down your throat, the line from the trailer: ‘I’m going to have to science the shit out of this!’ is so painfully true and dragged out, and while it is enjoyable and makes for some great content it does get a bit stale towards the middle of the second act where it just turns into an expensive episode of Mythbusters.
Coming from the world of PR myself I was really entertained by the behind closed doors scenes you see from NASA when they are trying to come up with a polite way of asking the man stranded on Mars starving to death not to curse because they have to release the transcripts of all conversations to the press.
On that note, the film delivers a lot of really good laughs in the form of situational humour where tension is relieved and the main points of the plot and situation are nicely summed up in a funny way. One notable scene is where they offer a solution to a big problem that arises during the rescue plan and it is so bafflingly complex that as an audience, excluding any astrophysicists who may be in the theatre, you really don’t know what to make of it- so the director makes the choice to have Damon’s character simply throw a tantrum down the line at NASA like a child being told he can’t go out to play and it serves the purpose of letting you know that you don’t have to worry about what you don’t understand, just know it’s not good.
NASA are humanised a lot in it and it was interesting to see the corporate and organisational side of it to show how many jobs are created by the program.
So before I focus on some things that disappointed me I must say that it is a very well made and well thought out film.
The casting is almost perfect. Almost. Childish Gambino (Donald Glover, no relation) is just a little bit too childish in his role and there’s no need for it, he’s a talented comedic actor and writer but I feel he was reaching a bit with this semi-serious role, almost playing his character from Community but with an aerospace qualification.
My biggest problem and the reason I left a bit disappointed is because I never got the sense of sheer, vast, terrifying and crippling loneliness that being trapped on Mars would bring. With CGI where it is today I was really looking forward to some sort of visual sequence or shot that would scare the hell out of me and give some scale to just how alone he was. Now some may make a point to say that he had communication (eventually) and this meant the director made the choice to show us how he was never truly alone, and I will make a point to ignore that and say I wanted some fear. Fear is the one thing you never get from Damon’s character and that fact is he was having an absolute whale of a time up there floating around with his potatoes and disco music. Actually, one scene that did strike some fear in my Irish heart is the scene where his potatoes are ruined in a horrific airlock accident, seeing space blight take hold will strike fear in any Irish Man’s heart, even on Mars the famine will get you.
In terms of a character change or some character development he sheds some weight and grows a beard but I didn’t get the sense that the experience changed him as a person and being trapped alone anywhere for 10 months would drastically change someone.
The pivotal rescue scene in the third act, while moving, is a little bit too rushed and I wonder if they spent less time in the boardroom and more time in the rocket would the scene have had the presence it deserved in the film.
I was expecting and already making comparisons to something like Cast Away in my head but instead you get a film more like Captain Phillips (IN SPACE!!!), which isn’t a bad thing, they did an amazing job of creating a very tense ‘so near, yet so far’ vibe that Captain Phillips currently is the reigning champion of in my book.
Having read the book I was expecting something different, but the film is still very enjoyable and I would love to be proved wrong in saying it may be another award piece for Matt Damon.
If there’s one thing to take away from the film it’s that people need to stop leaving Matt Damon in space, Matt Damon needs to just stay away from airlocks and America has spent so much money rescuing him from situations like war, and space, and space again that maybe he shouldn’t be sent on international or interplanetary errands anymore in the service of his country.