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The Martian (2015)

DVD Cover (Twentieth Century Fox)
Genres / Traits:
Action, Sci-Fi Action, Sci-Fi Adventure, Science Fiction, Space Adventure, 3-D
Director:
Ridley Scott Ridley Scott
Starring:
Matt Damon Matt Damon
Jessica Chastain Jessica Chastain
Kristen Wiig Kristen Wiig
Jeff Daniels Jeff Daniels
Michael Peņa Michael Peņa

8.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: May 18, 2016
A couple of weeks ago, my buddy was reading The Martian at work. It was a slow day and he was playing on his phone, so I picked up the book. Long story short: I absolutely loved it and tore through it in two days. Naturally, checking out the movie was the next step.

In the not too distant future, NASA has achieved a series of manned missions to Mars. We join the crew of Aries III on the red planet's surface who have just realized a massive storm is heading there way. With the heavy winds threatening to tip their ascent craft, Commander Lewis has no choice but to abort the entire mission. As they force their way through the pounding wind to their ascent craft, a communication array is torn from its fastenings and impales botanist Mark Watney, carrying him off into the storm. Naturally, the crew are devastated but with no realistic chances of finding him and time running out, they ascend to their main ship and begin the long flight back to Earth. Wouldn't you know it, Mark somehow survived that. The wound was superficial enough not to kill him, and the antenna and coagulating blood provided enough of a seal on the spacesuit to keep Mark breathing until he woke up and made his way back to the lab. Now comes the hard part. He has to find a way to survive on a desolate planet with limited food and no way to contact Earth.

The jokes about once-again retrieving and rescuing Matt Damon have all been made (apparently this is the eighth such time), so let's just move on shall we. The Martian has built up a lot of hype since its release, and it certainly delivers. The combination of Watney keeping himself alive by his own ingenuity and the frantic efforts of NASA to keep him alive from a world away kept the tension high, but Watney's naturally jovial personality was a perfect foil for it. While it sounds like two clashing ideas, they actually worked together very well. We all know just how dire his predicament is, but his jokes seem more a way of coping with the pressure than adding comedy in spite of the life-or-death situation. As an added bonus, the complicated science largely checks out due to Andy Weir's diligent research while writing the novel. Unfortunately, all bets were off once Hollywood got its hands on the thing, and there were a few changes made that stretch even the most basic of common sense. Things like Mark repairing a hole in his space suit with duct tape or that scene in the closing minutes where they took a massively unrealistic joke from the novel and actually had him utilize it. Thankfully there weren't enough of these moments to ruin the movie, but they certainly earned a sad sigh from yours truly.

Now, I hate to be this guy. The guy who can't let people enjoy a movie because it just "doesn't compare to the book." Well, the unfortunate truth is that it doesn't, and there's a single, concrete reason I can point to. Mark is an amazing character, and while I absolutely loved the science aspects, it's his sense of humor and personality that really drives the story. The book is probably at least eighty percent focused on Mark, with the remaining twenty spent on Earth detailing the missions undertaken to keep him alive. The movie is pretty much an even split between the two, meaning that said driving character is a much smaller part of the overall picture. Plus, with the switch from first person to third, another key factor of the novel is missing. Namely, Mark's explanations of the science and technology that his ingenuity is based on. Sure, they breeze through some of his plans, but not nearly enough to do such an integral part of the plot justice. While saving a man stranded on another planet is more than enough to keep an interesting movie afloat, we've lost the biggest pieces that made me love the novel, and the effect is certainly felt.

It should come as no surprise that Matt Damon pretty much had to carry this movie by himself. After all, he's playing an astronaut stranded alone on a desolate planet; not only is that an incredibly emotional role to work through, he doesn't even have any co-stars to interact with. Much like Watney, Damon had to go it alone, and was he ever up to the challenge. He ran a gamut of emotions in the role, and I bought every one of them. Plus, he has the charisma to carry Watney's sense of humor, which again, was an integral part of the story. Back on Earth, our group of would-be saviors consist of Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor; three very different characters that play off each other very nicely. Donald Glover also gets a small but important role in the group later on. Finally, the Aries III crew was perfectly cast. With Jessica Chastain as the responsibility-laden Commander Lewis, Michael Pena as the smart-ass pilot Ramirez, and Kate Mara as the mild-mannered Johannson, they all brought the novel's characters to life beautifully.

While it's certainly nowhere near the league of its source material (again, when is it ever?), it's still a fun watered-down version of the story. It stands just fine on its own, and hopefully drives fans to pick up the book. 6.5/10 if you've read it, 7.5/10 if you haven't.
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