Saturday, October 3, 2015

Nerdtastic Review: The Martian

We are incredibly fortunate. In the midst of the constant stream of sequels, prequels, and rehashes that Hollywood has been bombarding us with for the past several years, we have quietly entered what I believe to be the golden age of space-based science fiction films. The likes of Interstellar, Gravity, Moon, and many others, have created mind bending experiences that will stand the test of time. Although they appear similar on the surface, each film finds a unique tone and atmosphere that makes them entirely wonderful to behold on their own merits. The Martian not only joins these films as one of the best sci-fi movies to grace the silver screen in recent memory, it solidifies its place among the greatest sci-fi films of all time.

Mark Watney is a botanist. A brilliant, cocky, self possessed botanist who is entirely alone on an alien planet. Now mind you, that wasn't always the plan. Watney is one of six astronauts sent by NASA to explore the barren surface of Mars as part of the Ares III mission. But when a fierce, unannounced storm overtakes the crew, Watney is presumed dead and the others are forced to return to the friendly confines of space without him. We quickly discover that Watney has survived, albeit  bloody and battered, but the outlook is grim. With a four year wait before another manned crew can reach the red planet, and rations nowhere near bountiful enough to sustain him for that long, Mark has only one "science the sh*t out of this."

A solitary botanist confined to a planet of dirt with almost no chance of survival sounds quite mundane, but somehow The Martian manages to be one of the funniest movies of the year. Anchored by Matt Damon's tour de force performance, the amount of times that our theater burst into laughter was absolutely unprecedented for the premise of the movie that we were watching. This is what will separate The Martian from the other sci-fi movies in the long run. Where others may dwell on the bleakness and severity of space, The Martian manages to keep things light as often as possible without losing the gravity of the circumstances. It's an incredibly difficult balance to strike, but The Martian executes it so perfectly that you'll find yourself wishing more movies of this nature would take a page out of its book, literally.

Ridley Scott proves once again that no one, and I mean no one, does science fiction quite like him. The red planet is surprisingly beautiful, with pastel vistas and swirling clouds a constant backdrop to our solitary astronaut. One of the strongest ensemble casts in years is given an impeccable script and sure-handed direction, and the result is that not a single scene feels pointless, stretched, or dull. The Martian clocks in at over two hours but it never drags along; in fact I found myself wishing it had been a bit longer just so we could see more of Matt Damon's stellar performance. Sitting on a shelf alongside Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus, The Martian affirms Ridley Scott as nothing less than the greatest science fiction director of our time.

Now there is usually a point in a review where I talk about the flaws of a film. Perhaps the scenes that were good but not great, or jokes that missed the mark, maybe some visuals that seemed rush, or an actor that didn't fit the bill. But you will find no such paragraph in these parts as, in my mind, it simply does not exist. This is something that I will not say often, if ever, but The Martian is a truly perfect science fiction film that sets a new precedent in the genre. Yes, it is that good.

Everyone involved in The Martian is at the top of their game. Although Matt Damon gives a truly Oscar worthy performance, the remainder of the cast effortlessly keeps us invested even when Watney is not on screen. Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor are particularly wonderful, and Donald Glover makes an impactful, although far too brief appearance. The cinematography is breathtaking, the humor is sharp and poignant, the action is harrowing, and the direction is masterful. There really is nothing more to say about it, The Martian is one of the greatest science fiction films in history. 

My Rating: A+

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