I think we need to beseech NASA to send more tributes to space, if watching their struggle for survival is such an enjoyable and hilarious experience. Okay, never mind, I sound like such a sadist.
The Martian is a highly positive take on getting stranded on a deserted planet alone. On the heels of Gravity and Interstellar, which have revived the genre of space dramas, The Martian feels like a more grounded take that really focuses on one person’s journey back to Earth. Okay, if you include NASA’s bid to save him, the crew’s anxiety and the rest of the world’s support, then we get the whole world.
By definition of positive, I’m talking about the film’s jocose atmosphere. Being left alone somewhere, let alone in space, is always a really daunting experience, since humans are really meant to function as a group, and being deprived of that crucial aspect can really harm one psychologically over the long term. Its a pity that The Martian fails to explore that very aspect (alongside family, friends, hobbies and all that), but I guess Ridley Scott was really going for a ‘nothing can dismantle the very components of a human, not even hardship’ sort of film. In its place, is Matt Damon and his really lovable character, who cracks witty jokes, making an otherwise tense scenario become one we would love to follow.
And there comes the first problem- establishment of tone. The Martian definitely feels like a comedy at times (there are an infinite amount of jokes), and that’s the problem- the film tries to juggle between that, while also throwing in moments of distress. From the start, where the crew of Ares III were struggling over the loss of their crew mate, to the climatic sequence, where the world was rooting for Mark Watney (Damon), this film really tries to take on a temporary tragic tone, but fails miserably. This sorta downplays the emotional invocation the film tries to achieve, especially in the climax, where the ending sorta feels- anticlimactic.
Based on the similarly titled science fiction novel by Andy Weir, this adaptation is nothing short of brilliant, managing to bring out the very best in the book, while being really faithful to the original adaptation. The film is smart, witty and really sciency (Lets all science the shit out of this!), and definitely keeps you glued to the screen till the very end. Contrary to certain belief that this film might have been stretched (due to its remarkably long duration of 141 minutes), The Martian feels like its moving at a break neck pace, although there might be a few fumbles (especially on Earth, where some of the sequences seem unnecessary). The film kicks off pretty quickly too- within the first 10 minutes, we already have Watney being ditched to space prison- so no delays here. As the film progresses, we get more of Earth. and less of Watney, which really is unappreciated though (I know its important to focus on the Earth part, or this story wouldn’t be completed), especially since Matt Damon gives his very best in his take as the main protagonist in focus. Matt Damon is fantastic here, and no amount of words can describe just how incredible he was in this film. He pretty much enlivens the film, and without him, its really hard to imagine this film being as great as it is at the moment. Of course, the rest of the cast isn’t horrible- they are great as well (just that Damon is the unbeatable scene-stealer who commands every scene, and any brief disappearance leaves a sigh on our lips).
Yet another problem plagues the film, namely character development. It’s ironic that we get to know more about Watney’s fellow crew mates through his video cam recordings than himself, despite the rest of the crew being far off and mostly forgotten till the second half. Watney’s character here is mostly undercooked, and I understand its really difficult to develop a character when he’s alone, talking to himself, but maybe a bit more of a background on who he is back on Earth could help. Really, I don’t think we get to know anything about him apart from him being a genius, botanist and a disco-hater. And that’s an issue if you want us to empathize for him. Without any of those earthly factors that characterize him, he’s no different from an alien, and he really just looks like a fella who’s just having a great time on Mars (which the film is attempting to use with a sarcastic effect, but I digress). The rest of the cast is mostly undercooked too- this film is mostly a ‘action first, character second’ film. Despite this supposedly being a one-man character driven drama about survival, the film instead focuses on the various actions he does, which will definitely score a point with NASA and science nerds, but not anyone else (one reason why I think this film’s Academy Award chances are dashed).
To achieve the martian look, Wadi Rum in Jordan was used, and that translation is downright amazing. There’s no way, after putting the filter, can one imagine that ‘Hey, this is actually Earth after all!’. The film is downright stunning, and the overhead shots (of the scenery) were amazing, no doubt thanks to the cinematography.
When compared to Interstellar or Gravity, this film somewhat pales in comparison. Interstellar, for instance, is more mind blowing, and ambitious (in terms of concepts and grasp), whereas Gravity is more of an emotional ride with a beautifully shot climax and finale sequence. If you happen to not be a lover of either of those, then don’t come along for this film. If you’re looking for a survival story, which happens to be funny, go on, you know you’re coming. If you’re not the guy who’s into science, I promise, half this film is going to bore you big time. However, if you’re coming in just to live up to the hype, I’m just gonna say- this film is certainly overhyped, but if you’re talking about having a great time in theaters, Matt Damon’s performance, Ridley Scott’s direction and the humor scattered throughout will leave you wishing for more. And if you don’t make any comparisons with Interstellar or Gravity, I’m just going to say this film is one of the more entertaining, audience-friendly film in theaters at the moment.
Anyways, a huge crowd turned up for the 3D/Premium formats, which leave me baffled- I understand, the space sequences and Mars backdrop is downright beautiful in 3D and large premium format theaters, but most of the film occurs in an enclosed locale, either being in NASA’s headquarters, or Watney’s so called ‘home in space’, which pretty much leaves the necessity of watching this film in 3D unwarranted.
And here’s my final verdict:
7.5/10 (Funny, beautifully shot, driven by Matt Damon’s fantastic performance, but a tad too anti-climatic, pegged with bad character development and failure in establishment of tone)
On a scale of A to F, where F means stupid and dumb and ridiculous, and anything that you possibly wouldn’t love, and where A symbolizes perfection,
Character Development: B-
Entertainment Factor: A-