Monday, October 12, 2015

Movie Review: "The Martian"

Everybody has been raving about the latest movie from Ridley Scott, "The Martian", so let me add my voice to those raves.

You probably know the basics of the story.  A manned NASA mission to Mars is in place, when some sort of catastrophe occurs.  In this case, it is a severe storm on Mars.   The six person crew struggles to get aboard their craft and leave Mars, cutting short their planned mission.  During the storm, astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, gets separated from the crew and is killed.  The crew barely boards their spacecraft, but they are able to take off and is head for home.  However, surprise!, Watney isn't dead.  He has survived the catastrophe, but he is now alone on Mars, no one knows he's alive, and even if they did, there is no way to get to him and save him.

So, what does Watney do once he realizes his predicament?  How can he possibly survive, and what do the scientists (and bureaucrats at NASA) do once they realize that their fallen hero is alive?  Well, I'm not going to tell you.  The details of what follows make for a terrific story and a great movie.

You may think that this is purely a science fiction movie, but it's not.  It is an old fashioned, edge of your seat "rescue movie", if there is such a genre.  I couldn't even begin to understand the science in the movie, and I doubt that half of the audience wouldn't either, but it's not important to understand how Watney produces water or if the thrusters are being operated properly.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Matt Damon is positively terrific in this movie.  Probably 95% of the time he is on screen, and he is on screen for most of the movie, he is all by himself.  That can't be an easy thing for an actor to do.  An Oscar nomination for Damon as Watney would surely not be an injustice, but we'll see how that plays out once the big "important", Oscar-worthy movies are rolled out towards the end of the year.  Others of note in the movie are Jeff Daniels as the NASA Director, Chiwetel Ejiofor and the Mission Director on the ground, Jessica Chastain and the Mission Commander, and Kristin Wiig and the NASA PR Director.  All are great, but I might quibble with the way Daniels plays his role as the uptight NASA Director.

This movie has been compared with both "Gravity" and "Apollo 13" and not without merit.  In my mind, it is much, much better than "Gravity" and certainly on par with "Apollo 13".  In my own mind, I might rate "Apollo 13" a bit ahead of "The Martian" because the story of Apollo 13 was, you know, true.

Visually, "The Martian" is stunning.  Scenes on the Martian landscape make you really feel the vastness and desolation.  Amazing stuff.  I saw the movie in 3D, which is cool, but I am not so sure that the movie would have been any less spectacular had I seen it is two dimension, so maybe you can save yourself a couple of bucks there.  Also, it is long, maybe a little too long at two hours and twenty minutes.  So you might not want to buy a large soda before entering the theater, if you know what I mean.  

Four stars all the way on this one.  Don't miss it.

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