I would have sworn I somehow got a hold of the assembly cut of this film. Half-baked special effects permeate this film and it annoyed the hell out of me. However, once the dust settles on the opening set-piece and the film sets into being a story of survival on Mars, I’m hooked. This is my jam.
An adaptation of Andy Weir’s science fiction novel, the film strains under its literary influences. Video logs of Mark Watney (Matt Damon) chronicling his musings on how to survive is the kind of exposition device that works great in the novel but is usually boring in a film. And the ins and outs of survival are the kind of tediums that is more likely to be forgiven in a book.
However, The Martian has Matt Damon as the lead and he sells the film. Damon is that rare calibre of actor who could sit in a room for two hours and tell you a story and it would be fascinating. Here his ramblings on botany, gardening, colonization, maritime law, and bad disco music are all funny, insightful and entertaining.
And back on planet Earth, NASA deals with how to handle this PR nightmare while also figuring out the logistics of how to bring Mark back home. These are the lesser moments of the film, but they’re still damn entertaining. The characters are a lot more grave about their circumstances than Mark’s general morbid humor at his predicament.
It’s also refreshing to get science fiction that’s a lot more scientific. A lot of the principles and perils of a mission to Mars are explored at length and it’s a film filled with all sorts of rich details. It’s likely that a lot of what this film depicts will end up being a reality on Mars. Hopefully, we won’t leave someone behind on Mars, but surviving on the planet for an extended period of time is an exciting possibility.
After seeing the film, I’m eager to read the book. A lot of what doesn’t work in the film probably works fine in the novel. It’s a film that needed to be more filmic and a little less pandering to its audience. And it could have done with less special effects shots. Plus, it’s yet another film touting the merits of potato farming. It’s no The Turin Horse, but it’s still a solid film.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing