The Martian doesn’t contain anywhere near the intellectual depth of Interstellar because it doesn’t need to. Instead of focusing on mind-melting logic, it wants to stimulate a different muscle: The heart. Not the physical heart, although there are more than a few tense scenes. The metaphorical heart where all of our emotions come from.
Most of the film is presented as a narration disguised as a personal video log or found camera footage. For those that haven’t read the book the film is based on, it casts a shadow of doubt on whether or not our hero survives his journey. Could he have made it and this is just the storytelling style they chose to use or did he not make it and this is what is used to piece together his final days after his death? Either way, this form of exposition works well with the tone because Mark Watney is supposed to feel like a good friend who moved away that you Skype with every day. Instead of moving to a different state or country, he is just in a different part of the galaxy. Like a good friend, it feels like he is always talking with you and never at you.
Mark Watney’s relatability is largely due to Matt Damon’s remarkable performance. His performance, along with the rest of the very talented cast, does a great job at treating us like intellectual equals with all these scientists. We are never bombarded with jargon or concepts that make us feel imbecilic. The added benefit of making the main character so down-to-earth is that it humanizes the astronauts and all of NASA. It also reminds us of the beauty and excitement of space travel rather than focusing on all the monsters possibly lurking around every corner waiting to kill us.
Ridley Scott’s latest space adventure doesn’t take place in a far off quadrant of the universe, but instead transports us to one of our neighboring planets. Scott shatters his recent style-over-substance tactic (i.e., Exodus: Gods and Kings) and opts for a more naturalistic approach to Mars. Instead of recreating this whole terrain on green screen, as Scott has done before, he uses the desert terrain Earth has and color corrects the warmer tones to give it the Mars effect. This use of practical effects gives the film a high-quality feel while also keeping it grounded in reality. Scott reminds us that he can still make a great sci-fi film without it having to go into the realm of fantasy.
One of the greatest assets this film has is its unshakable optimism, which you never see in a Ridley Scott sci-fi. Aside from thanking Andy Weir, who wrote the book this film is based on, we have to offer much of the praise to Drew Goddard. Adapting this book into a cohesive screenplay is no simple task, but Goddard has had experience delivering high concept ideas while maintaining a lighthearted and humorous tone. The best example I can offer of this book being perfectly translated into film, would be by mentioning that there was a well-placed joke about Lord of the Rings happening while Sean Bean was in the room.
Aside from the great ambiance setting scoring from legendary composer Harry Gregson-Williams, this film was perfectly soundtracked by popular music from the 70’s. The music perfectly mirrored the mood or theme that was currently being experienced on screen. It added another layer of depth (and sometimes humor) to every scene and situation. The songs ranged from David Bowie’s “Starman” to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” so their relevance is already obvious for those who haven’t seen the film yet. Their song choices may seem obvious, but they could have easily used Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”. Instead, they chose to show a restraint I wouldn’t have been able to since I would have probably soundtracked the film with anything from “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”.
The Martian is an interstellar adventure that you don’t even have to leave your solar system to experience.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★ (9/10 stars)