reviewed by Tom-Tom
I had had it with Ridley Scott. Despite the beautiful production value of his films, something about the direction of his recent films disappointed me. A feeling of greatness thrown away for a cheap twist or beating a dead horse for an obscene length of time. I approached The Martian with a wary countenance. I am happy to say, it is a great success almost making me forgive him for wasted chance that was Prometheus and the boring mess that was Kingdom of Heaven. How should I describe it? Is it a mix of Gravity and Dallas Buyer’s Club in the respect that the protagonist is not on the Earth, in immediate danger, but is affable about his chances for survival. It is also a bit like 127 Hours in that Matt Damon, in his intelligent quest for survival is every bit as charming as Matthew McConaughey and James Franco were in their respective films of overcoming seemingly impossible odds with tenacity, intelligence, and sheer will power.
It is also like Apollo 13 with astronauts on Earth devising virtual scenarios and calculations which are so intellectually satisfying to see on film. Mars is so beautifully recreated that it is a joy to just sit back and watch the fiery red landscapes. The plot isn’t all that different from Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars from the 1990’s, except for where Don Cheadle’s brilliant plan of survival was there a mere side note where, it is the main dish.
A team of scientists from Earth are on the surface of Mars, taking soil samples, mapping out territories etc. Suddenly a sandstorm hits and their lives are in jeopardy. Matt Damon is hit by debris and flies out of site seeming to die the death of a red shirted Away Team member in the Original Star Trek Series. Indeed, his bio-detector is screaming that his suit has imploded and its occupant is freeze-dried toast. Grudgingly, near-fatally grudgingly, the remaining crew takes off leaving what they imagine to be his corpse behind.
As there is still more than two hours left in the film, we realize that he is indeed not dead. What follows is a long, engaging, and surprisingly positive account almost documentary-like of Damon’s survival. Each new problem, he faces with striking creativity and affable charm. He hasn’t been this charming since at least The Adjustment Bureau. We seem him filmed from various Mars Habitat cameras, sometimes a shaky suit or rover cam explaining his current state or thoughts on how to tackle each problem. The sharp editing and fun soundtrack (the commander’s “terrible” disco albums) contribute to the journey. The images are intercut with scenes on earth as the director of NASA (Jeff Daniels) and various brilliant scientists attempt to virtually preempt each possibility in an attempt to bring him home safely. As in Dallas Buyer’s Club, this is all carried out so charmingly and positively despite the immediate danger that one is inclined almost to sell the danger short. But in both films, infrequent, shocking reminders bring viewers to bear down on the cold hard state of affairs but not in a cheap, contrived fashion. The Mars Mission is carried out so matter of fact a way that I had to remind myself that no, we haven’t yet sent a manned mission to Mars, yet. As in Apollo 13, a fair balance of suspense, (the last 30 minutes are an edge of your seat nail-biting fear fair if you have been paying attention thus far), humor, and triumph keep the viewers satisfied through the end. One of Ridley Scott’s best films ever.