Review, “The Martin” – *** stars (out of ****)
Releases October 2, 2015
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Drew Goddard
Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski
Starring Matt Damon), Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Childish Gambino, Sean Bean
Running Time: 141 minutes
Budget: $108 million
It’s easy to complain when film adaptations of best-selling books feature a manufactured love interest, or a charismatic villain with over-simplified motivations. Why mess with a plot and cast of characters that’s already proven to be a draw for audiences? Even worse, why add tired tropes to a memorable story that’s captured readers’ imaginations without relying on a heartsick hero or eccentric bad guy?
In Andy Weir’s bestselling (and self-published!) 2011 novel “The Martian,” there is no traditional love story, and there is no villain besides the unrelenting indifference of a dusty, lifeless planet. Lifeless, all except for Good Astronaut Matt Damon (rather than Bad Astronaut Matt Damon, who tried to smash a rock through Matthew McConaughey’s visor in last year’s “Interstellar), who is struck by debris, reasonably assumed dead, and left behind on Mars when a sudden storm forces the Ares 3 crew into space and back toward Earth well ahead of schedule.
Except Space Botanist Damon’s Mark Watney isn’t dead. He’s got a radio antenna buried 3 inches deep in his abdomen and is running low on oxygen, but he isn’t dead. And from the moment he awakes, disoriented and gasping in pain, it’s clear that ingenuity and bravery will be equally essential if he is to stay alive on a planet that hasn’t supported carbon-based life forms for millions of years.
Refreshingly, no evil corporation secretly sponsored Watney’s mission to Mars, and no devoted wife eagerly awaits his return. And as he struggles to remove the metal rod from his stomach and staple the wound together in his six-person crew’s recently-abandoned, semi-permanent base, Watney outmaneuvers the first of many obstacles that try very hard to kill him. But even more impressive (especially from a storytelling perspective), is that instead of being sustained by the memory of a lover or the betrayal of a cowardly friend, Watney is propelled forward by only an indefatigable good humor and determination to “science the shit” out of whatever resources he can scrounge up in order to stay fed for the four years it will take for a rescue mission to reach him. Re: the “space pirate” moniker — Watney refers to himself as such because, technically speaking, the movie’s Mars is under maritime law, since it’s not under any specific nation’s jurisdiction. Might have made for a catchier title.
Along with memorable turns by Donald Glover (as a brilliant on-the-spectrum physics nerd), Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean (as NASA executives at odds over the least disaster-prone way to get their stranded astronaut home), this unusual faithfulness to the source material makes “The Martian” worth a look. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good time at the movies.