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    The Martian (2015): Movie Review


    "A heart-warming, fun and inspiring story of survival.” 



    Matt Damon plays as an astronaut stranded in the red planet in Ridley Scott’s blockbuster The Martian. Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same title, this adept and witty adaptation explores how a man’s daring will to survive pushes him to summon all his ingenuity, courage and strength in the face of isolation and unpredictable circumstances.

    Mark Watney (Damon) is the botanist of NASA’s crew Ares III led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) whose mission is to explore Earth’s sister planet. However, a storm hits their location, forcing them to abort the mission immediately. Unfortunately, a satellite tears off and impales Mark, knocking him unconscious. Thinking that he is dead, the rest of the team (Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie) flies off from the planet. When he wakes up, Mark quickly reassesses his situation and makes do with the remaining resources. With the next Mars mission arriving in four years, he realizes he needs to produce his own food supply. Channeling the nerdy botanist and scientist in him, he grows his own potatoes, produces his own water and strives to establish contact with Earth.


    Meanwhile on Earth, officials of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover) arrange a memorial for Mark and the public warmly mourns his death. Later, a sharp-eyed NASA technician, Minday Park (Mackenzie Davis), observes that satellite pictures of Mars have changed since the Hermes had left. Apparently, there is ground movement which could only mean that Mark is still alive. Working to the hours, they finally communicate with Mark and a rescue mission is launched. Such attempt is long-shot and risky but with Mark’s colleagues in Ares III willing to return to save a fallen comrade, anything just might be possible.

    As expected, The Martian is absorbing, striking and tremendously crowd-pleasing. It powerfully takes us to the place and time, as if subsisting in the arid grounds of Mars is relatable or even close to life on Earth. This is probably because every detail in the film is paid with close attention, from the set and its scientific aspects up to its narrative and the protag’s how-to approaches for survival. It is perhaps one of the most realistic portrayals of a manned mission to Mars. Understandably, the book is highly-technical as sciences about food, oxygen, aerodynamics, physics and machines are thoroughly explained; whereas, the film abides to these technicalities but it manages to make them comprehensible and surprisingly fun at all levels. Much of the film is really about problem-solving and it is very engaging to watch how the players, not only Mark on Mars but also his teammates who are still floating in space and his supporters back on Earth, tackle various issues. But it is mostly about Mark and it is mind-blowing and impressive how he brings agriculture to the planet by converting hydrazine rocket fuel to water, turning human wastes to compost, and growing viable potatoes on the alien soil. He even does multiple calculations, particularly with his rations and the cost-benefits of scavenging leftovers from previous Mars mission and turning up the heat in his rover. In essence, this is a very nerdy movie but Mark comes across as uplifting and motivational.


    The film is very long, spanning at least two hours; yet, it is never dull and draggy. Subplots, particularly pertaining to NASA’s own efforts in the catastrophe, are handled sensitively and intelligently that they chimed with what’s happening on Mars. Tension is tight and pacing is just perfect, without making the movie overly exciting.

    Director Scott is no stranger to making films about space exploration. The ultra-blockbuster classic Alien (1979) and the recent Prometheus (2012) are all his creations. Like the two films, he has also touched the subject matter of human survival like his 1982 Blade Runner. So what separates The Martian from his other hits? Unlike most of his movies which verge on melodrama, the present feature is upbeat and wisecracking. It’s this light and optimistic overall tone that makes the film especially engaging. It is very relaxed and funny, and when teary moments beckon to arise, Mark just warms up and brings in his cheery attitude. His sense of humor is as admirable as his will to live. Plus, he has some 1970s dance floor classics to brighten him up like “Turn the Beat Around” and “Hot Stuff.” In general, this is a movie that deeply value life and relationships without being too obvious about it.


    All the cast gave their hearts to the movie but it is Damon who really carries it throughout. This is perhaps his best performance in years as he is undeniably credible as the nerdy but hunky astronaut. He delivers the intensity and gravity of an isolated man as he talks incessantly to himself or in his video diary. But through it all, he is capable of controlling his fears and sadness as there are more things he looks forward to. 

    The Martian is visually engaging and inarguably entertaining. It is absorbing from first frame up to the final seconds. It is formulaic but it brings certain freshness and a feeling of warmth and joy to familiar materials. 



    Production companies: 20th Century Fox release and presentation, in association with TSG Entertainment, of a Scott Free, Kinberg Genre production 
    Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover, Chen Shu, Eddy Ko, Chiwetel Ejiofor 
    Director: Ridley Scott 
    Screenwriter: Drew Goddard, based on the novel by Andy Weir 
    Producers: Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam 
    Executive producer: Drew Goddard 
    Director of photography: Dariusz Wolski 
    Production designer: Arthur Max 
    Costume designer: Janty Yates 
    Editor: Pietro Scalia 
    Music: Harry Gregson-Williams

     

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    We may pursue many dreams but it is always our passions that will give our lives deeper meaning. I am an agricultural engineer by records, a university instructor by profession, and a blogger by heart...

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