Cinematic Releases: The Martian

Does Ridley Scott redeem himself with The Martian?

"Damn! That Prometheus
 crew is really stupid!"
The Martian, based on the 2011 novel of the same name that made Andy Weir a surprise hit of the decade, is something relative to an Apollo 13-style theme mixed with Castaway type nuances. 

Astronaut/botanist Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and presumed dead by the rest of his crew mates. He must survive well past his anticipated expiration date by exhausting every resource he has on a planet that is literally void of opportunity. It’s your classic tale of man-left-behind-on-Mars-but-figures-out-how-to-make-it-work-anyway. Visually, director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) conceptualizes a limitless horizon of dry sand and morphs it into a literal astronaut playground with striking framework that masterfully illustrates what happens when you turn an award-winning novel into a (possibly) award-winning film.

Watney (played by Matt Damon) begins his journey at ground zero with the nominal resources left behind from his crew mates and transforms his unfortunate situation into a tale of strong-willed perseverance. He becomes the self-proclaimed “best botanist on Mars” (and that’s hard to argue with, since he’s the only botanist on Mars) by ravaging any semblance of his lifeless  habitat and constructing his own (ingenious) mini potato farm. He manages to immutably sustain both his crops and his sanity while “documenting” his journey via laptop email with NASA.

"Sent to Mars and growing weed.
I just love this mission."
The rest of the cast and crew do just as they were probably intended – formally viewed first as the “rest of us” back home, but quickly becoming a staple to Mark Watney’s safe return. Kristen Wiig’s portrayal of NASA assistant Annie Montrose is at first glance stale and one-dimensional but considering it’s her first non-comedic acting role, her timing and dry delivery packs more punch than expected. Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña and Kate Mara also bring life to Oscar-worthy performances in an already impressive cinematic gem.

The Martian is what Gravity would have been like if science had more of a hand in the respective outcomes, outplaying each and every futuristic space movie, and quickly making all of them seem as tame as Toy Story. It’s a film that pools all possible outcomes  with the strong and steadfast will of humans and turns an “I wish” into an “I can”. There are several glaring instances of defeat that Watney is challenged with – no food, no water, no support system. Scott teaches us scene-by-scene what adversity feels and looks like, throwing in flawless and perfectly timed comedic relief to once again reassure that although this man is stranded on a planet 140 million miles from Earth, the smallest ounce of humor in even the toughest situations can nearly save a life.


-Sarah Shafer 

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