Written by The Vern
Of all the nominees for Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards; The Martian is the only one that most everyone has seen. Yes, even more than Mad Max Fury Road. That one is indeed a movie lovers’ wet dream. But, most general audiences could care less about an apocalyptic road trip However, this one about an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars is the movie that everyone and their grandma has seen.
From the trailers released you would just think that it was just like any other movie where someone gets stranded like Castaway or 127 Hours. Either that or people love trying to find Matt Damon. He has become the Where’s Waldo? of movie characters. Tom Hanks had to find him in Saving Private Ryan and poor Jessica Chastain had to search for him before in Interstellar and now The Martian. It would seem like Mr. Damon should have his own GPS locator implanted on him by now. The story of a man being stranded is nothing we haven’t seen before. Even changing the location doesn’t make it that much more original either. We love seeing characters overcoming unbeatable odds. We love it even more if it’s one that we can find relatable and somehow match their struggles with ones of our very own. Matt Damon’s portrayal of Mark Watney is that guy.
For starters, he’s by far the coolest botanist that I can think of. There is probably someone reading this right now claiming they are the best, but I’m sorry. They haven’t made a movie about you yet. After he finds out that his crew has left him and that there will not be another rescue mission for at least four years, Mark has to science the shit of his situation and make some plants grow. Never once in this situation does he ever become discouraged or start cursing at what life gave him. He remains calm and even uses a good amount of humor to help him deal with the problems.
When I saw that it was being nominated for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes. I didn’t quite understand it because the trailers showed something very dramatic and not very funny. After watching it and hearing Matt Damon’s monologues. I can understand why it was up for the category. The humor just shines through and makes the character of Mark Watney that much more realistic. Mr. Damon has got some competition in the acting category at this year’s Academy Awards with Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Redmayne, Bryan Cranston and more all nipping at Oscar’s feet. But out of all of them, this role is the one most people will have revisited more often
The other thing that makes The Martian the great is the pacing. There are two stories going along at the same time. One is Mark trying to survive for several long years before a rescue crew arrives. The other involves the people at Nasa trying to find the best solution to get him home. This can never be easy because you don’t want to spend too much time on one story and too little on the other. However editor Pietro Scalia knows how to keep stories both engaging and exciting and gives them each equal time. I even love that there was no need for any heavy action scenes. Look at the moment when the character of Mark is separated from his crew. It’s an intense scene but it never calls attention to itself.
I mentioned earlier on how good Matt Damon is in the lead role, but I should mention the other actors as well. Jessica Chastain and Michael Pena are wonderful as his crew members who want to see him safely return. There is a nice moment with them together and you are not sure if they will be able to retrieve him or not. Jeff Daniels as NASA director Teddy Sanders is a role that in another director’s hands could be made into a villain. But Ridley Scott shows this man’s humanity by giving him the ultimate choice. If he tries to save Mark, he does risk losing another crew. It was great to see that there were no big villains except for the situation that everyone was in and that they were all looking to help each other achieve that
The final things that make it the award- worthy blockbuster it is are the visuals. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has worked on many great movies before like Dark City and The Walk and his visuals of life on Mars and in space are incredible. We all knew that director Ridley Scott could do another sci-fi movie, and this is indeed a very nice return to form for him. This is certainly better then Prometheus, which was also scripted by Drew Goddard. I also want to praise it’s use of music choices. For some reason, old disco songs seem to work great and I’ll admit, I got a little teary-eyed when I heard David Bowie’s “Starman” playing in a key moment.
I’m glad I got to see The Martian theaters when I did because this movie was perfect for the format. You really got the sense of isolation being with Mark all alone on Mars when he was stranded. At over two and a half hours, the movie never felt like it wasted its time. The only thing I would have trimmed down were the scenes when a young computer genius (Donald Glover) helps break a key code. It’s an important scene but there were moments when it felt like it was filling up too much time.