"The Martian" is the Pulse Pounding Epic We've Been Waiting For

By Scott Kurland

Film: The Martian
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover
Rated: PG-13
Director: Ridley Scott

I’ll be honest with you dear reader, I tried really hard to make time to read Andy Weir’s acclaimed novel “The Martian”. Sadly, there were just too many books to read. So when it came down to reading “My Name Is Malala” or “The Martian”; I picked Malala…because if I didn’t I’d feel like a monster. Yet, as the years went on “The Martian” became a very popular book; and now after a year of production it’s finally become a very popular movie. Let’s see if all this hype for a beloved book is truly earned, shall we?

“The Martian” is the story of Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), the botanist for the Ares III manned mission to Mars.  As the crew (Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stans, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, and Aksel Hennie) are preparing to leave Mars with Watney; they are ambushed by a sand storm. Watney is hit and left behind after the crew loses track of him and assume he’s dead. However, Watney isn’t dead; in fact he’s very much alive. Watney must learn how to survive on Mars, even if that means growing food himself. Back on Earth, NASA learns Watney is alive and a team of experts (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover) must figure out to get Watney home. Will Watney ever make it home? Or will he become Earth’s first native Martian?

Excuse me for geeking out when I say this. RIDLEY SCOTT IS BACK!!!!! You have no idea how long I’ve waited for him to return to space. Yes, I understand “Prometheus” was in space; but that was almost four years ago. Also “Prometheus” doesn’t age well even though I was hoping it would, that film kind of drags on. Yet, I truly mean it when I say Scott returns to his roots with “The Martian”. This is a very strange hybrid film. Imagine if “Blade Runner”, “Castaway”, and “Apollo 13” had a baby. That cinematic cocktail is what “The Martian” is made of. Half of that can be credited to Scott’s direction; the other credit can be given to screenwriter Drew Goddard. Goddard is the genius behind “Cabin In The Woods” and Netflix & Marvel series “Daredevil”. Goddard brings that same unique writing style to “The Martian”. I think that’s why the film is so strong, because at the film’s core is a very original voice. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a sense of urgency, but there is a lot of humor.

This is going to be the most confusing sentence I’ve ever written, but bear with me because I’ll explain it…. I swear. For such a star studded space epic “The Martian” feels like every main character is the star of their own independent film. I told you it was a doozy of a sentence. Please let me elaborate, for such a big budget film there’s a lot of time spent on character development and arch. Those are very important components when your subject matter is so unique. Every character in this film is a lead. Each of their stories have a beginning, middle, and end.

Damon, is of course the main focus of the film; and he gives his best performance since “Good Will Hunting”. He has come close a few times with his roles in “The Departed” and “True Grit”. I must say though, this is the first time in a long while that we’ve seen him emote with such range. Damon’s scenes of solitude give us the audience glimpses into his diminishing mental capacity. Damon’s performance really shows you how cruel and unforgiving space can be. It’s also a cautionary tale showcasing what too much time alone can do to a man. If Tom Hank’s performance in “Castaway” is any indication of how the Academy votes, I think we’ll be seeing Damon as a contender for Best Actor. I could be wrong, but he does deliver a masterful performance.

“The Martian” is filled with wonderful and surprising performances from Jessica Chastain as the ship’s commander. You also get stellar performances from Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, and Sean Bean (shocking note: Sean Bean doesn’t die in this film. I know I’m just as flabbergasted as you are.) For me the two performances that stood out the most were Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover. Glover doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the film, but he steals all of his scenes. Ejiofor on the other hand is the film’s second male lead, in my opinion. Ejiofor has the difficult job of being the voice of reason. He has to be the go between for both Daniels who plays the head of NASA and Benedict Wong the chief engineer for the space program. Ejiofor is very subtle in his performance. At times it comes across as brash; but he’s perfect for the role. As I said before the casting for the film is so perfect and incredibly bizarre. You wouldn’t think that a cast this diverse would pair well together, but they do.

“The Martian” is one of the best fiction based films about space exploration that seems plausible. Whenever I’ve seen a real life space mission, my biggest fear is something like this happening. At times “The Martian” seems ridiculous in some of it’s theories; and at others it’s down right brilliant. This is a film that needs to be watched on the big screen. You don’t necessarily need to splurge for the 3D, but it does add to the film’s action. The 3D really shines in the storm scene at the beginning of the movie. “The Martian” is one of the best times I’ve had at the theater in months, and I implore you to see this film. This is a must see action packed blockbuster.

scott kurlandComment