By Liz Casanova
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena and Sean Bean
Written by Drew Goddard (screenplay) and Andy Weir (book)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Running time 141 min
MPAA rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Dollar
A team of astronauts is sent on a mission to Mars in The Martian. It's a totally normal space job with a cool team of scientist that know how to have a good time. Right before they have to go back to boring old Earth, there is an angry storm that blows part of their station and causes an explosion. Not everyone escapes the tragedy. They sadly depart when they realize that one of their own is probably dead, they sadly depart.
But wait, the man on Mars isn't dead. He emerges from the dust in triumph. He needs a ride back but, meanwhile, he has to learn how to survive on a planet where he is the only life form. This is the perfect stage, the perfect drama, the perfect cast and the perfect director to make this an epic film. But as much bang and sauce this film has, it's also the bang and sauce that make it just another space film.
Where to start on how this film doesn't deliver? Okay. The cast. The cast is a top grade group of actors. Matt Damon is the Mark Watney, the man stuck on Mars. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) is Melissa Lewis the commander of the ship and Jeff Daniels is Mission Control. And that's just the top tier. It seems like every scene had me saying "oh cool…that guy." But that's a weakness. The decision to cast the best actors in Hollywood is obvious. These people are what makes the studio bucks. But please, can we stop putting Chastain in every film as the commander of something? I realize she is the "It Girl" at the moment, but sometimes a fresh new face is good. It's like when you are finally an adult and you don't have to ask permission to eat candy. You eat all the candy you can get your hands on. But, as delicious as the candy is, it's too much and you don't want it any more. The screen candy is too much. Matt Damon, he's your star. And I'll even forgive Pena, he's a fresher face, and Wiig, she's doing something a little more out of her element.
Moving on to the script. Comparing a film to a book is useless. The film is it's own story. And sometimes what is in a book cannot translate to film. The problem with the script is that it's about 30 minutes too long. It's also too ridiculously unbelievable. And before anyone says, "what can be so believable about a man stuck on Mars," I'll retort that it is the job of the filmmaker to make me believe. If I'm going to be sitting in a dark room watching your $100M dollar movie, I better be feeling like this is happening right now and that Matt Damon needs someone to bring him back. I at no point felt that Damon wasn't going to make it. I'm not saying that he does. No spoilers here. But I never felt anxious. He was too smart. And maybe that was the problem. He knew all the answers.
The 3D glasses are not an enhancement to the film either. Where films like Gravity and Interstellar had moments throughout that justified the technology, The Martian, did not have any scenes where the 3D was necessary. But that, again, is probably a studio decision.
And finally, the science questions. It's pretty awesome that Mark Watney was able to grow potatoes on Mars. That was probably the best part of the film. However, there are scenes that remind me of what films like Thank You for Smoking and The Producer echo. If a character gets in a jam, just invent some high tech thing or say some magic words and that will solve the problem. There is so much of that in this film. Maybe (okay spoiler alert) the science is correct and Watney was able to use a makeshift space ship made out of tarp to escape. I didn't buy it.
I did enjoy the humor. And I really do like Damon. He's great at being stuck in space. I also think Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as one of the main NASA guys was great. And Donald Glover's (Community) little scenes are also a favorite. If the film would have been shorter and less campy, I would have given it a higher rating. But after an hour and a half, I was pretty much done. Wait until it's at the dollar cinema if you really want to see this film on the big screen.