Relatively unimpressive works like Prometheus (2012) and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) have put 77-year-old Ridley Scott's directorial prowess under scrutiny as of late. The Martian is Scott's response to these sentiments. With a level of humanity that Gravity (2013) could only dream of and a precision that Interstellar (2014) never achieved, The Martian is definitively the best space mission I've been on in years. Based on the book by Andy Weir, The Martian follows the Ares III mission to Mars. Due to an intense sandstorm, the Ares team is forced to abort their mission and flee the planet's surface. During their departure, botanist Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is struck by debris and lost by his crew. Presumed dead, the team cuts their losses and sets out for Earth, only to find out later that Watney has survived and is awaiting rescue. Much like Scott's sci-fi classic Alien (1979), The Martian features an enormous ensemble cast full of some of the most talented actors in today's market. This is the first of many reasons why this film works on such a deep level. No aspect of the narrative feels peripheral because each character is fully fleshed out and critical to the story's structure. Every person is given purpose and dignity, which deeply enhances the film's connection with the audience. This is primarily because Drew Goddard's script, and subsequently Weir's novel, is written with such charisma and wit that it's near impossible not to become profoundly attached to the characters, namely Watney. His sense of humor, which is so well developed that the theater I found myself in erupted with laughter on several occasions after some snarky insight or sardonic remark about his situation, keeps the entire movie afloat. Watney remains simultaneously very conversational and intimate throughout and is definitely the most likable protagonist this year has seen thus far. This allows for all his hardships to connect with the audience that much more. After watching this man's incredible ability to remain calm through such an ordeal, seeing him break down becomes almost too much to bear. It's this profound humanity that makes the story so interesting. The Martian is nearly a two-and-a-half hour movie, but not once did I find myself checking the time. I could've watched Watney wander around Mars forever, observing as he sarcastically mutters to himself about the absurdity of his situation while simultaneously performing miracles of science not thought possible. After leaving the theater, I found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that I had just watched a work of fiction, not an actual biopic, precisely because Watney is so well rendered. He's a living, breathing human being, just like the rest of us.The film's supreme sense of realism is spearheaded by the way it so logically and casually implements the science of its fiction, a skill that won't be found in most other films of this nature. For example, I have little to no idea what was actually happening in Interstellar, and for those of you who haven't seen it, I can almost guarantee the same confusion awaits you unless you're a quantum physicist. I'm certainly not a scientist, and chances are you aren't either, so when a film presents concepts that are unfathomable to the average citizen, few people benefit. The Martian avoids this problem altogether for two reasons: the first is the fact that the entire film is based in science that transcends theory. Much of what is seen on- screen is accurate to where we stand today. The narrative of the film is supposed to take place in the very near future, so most of the technology seen is either already in existence or just a few years away ? something that Interstellar most certainly cannot lay claim to. The second reason why The Martian remains so accessible to the scientifically illiterate is that Watney explains everything he's doing in detail as he does it, getting into the nitty-gritty of every process he undertakes and every feat he achieves. For him, he's just talking to himself while documenting his experience, but for us, he's giving a clear, understandable account of how one could possibly survive on Mars while not being in any way prepared to do so. This didacticism keeps the film wholly engaging and credible throughout. But the film's narrative isn't great just because it's so fascinating and thorough ? its also incredibly well structured and paced. I wasn't sold on Gravity because of its relentlessness. Every possible thing that could've gone wrong did go wrong, and after a while that has a numbing effect. I can't be completely invested in a character's struggle if A. I don't know them very well and B. the level of danger they're in is so constant and explosive that it borders on absurdity. The Martian understands this. It doesn't test the limits of its characters by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at them. Instead, it provides only intermittent crises. It allows for the audience to become invested in the improbable success of Watney and then tests both him and the audience at just the right moment. This allows for bursts of intensity and subsequent release that establish the emotional intelligence of the whole film. That being said, it's still early in the year and Oscar season has only just begun, but for now, The Martian is the best movie of 2015. Ridley Scott has been the king of science fiction for several decades, and it doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon.
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During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring "the Martian" home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible, rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney's safe return.
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January 15, 2016 at 6:37 pm