Movie Review: The Martian (2015)

Posted: November 12, 2015 in Comedy, Drama
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Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is exploring Mars on a mission for NASA.  Without warning, a windstorm approaches, and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is impaled by an antenna, and presumed dead.  Lewis and the rest of the crew reluctantly leave Watney behind, and head for Earth.  Watney however is alive and uses extreme heat sources to split hydrogen atoms, create water, and fertilize the Martian soil with his own feces to grow potato plants.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) realizes while viewing satellite pictures, that the Mars rover has been moved. Park summons Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s director of Mars operations (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and they conclude Watney is alive.  Kapoor in turn tells NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) that Watney is alive.  Sanders decides not to tell the public until they have a plan to communicate with him and at the very least resupply his food supply.  Watney is working on the communications issue, he is driving the rover to the Pathfinder.  When Kapoor realizes where Watney is going he gets the Pathfinder crew together, and works on getting the communications satellite on Pathfinder up and running,  Kapoor communicates with Watney first through hexadecimal and later through some kind of instant messaging system.

The rescue mission is more complicated.  Sanders doesn’t want to tell Lewis and her crew that Watney is alive, for obvious reasons, so he concentrates on a food re-supply mission.  But the rocket that the Jet propulsion lab builds blows up, so Sanders has to come up with another plan.  He comes up with a plan that involves a Chinese booster rocket and a second food supply mission, but Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) has a much more ambitious plan involving the Chinese booster rocket and Commander Lewis’ ship.  Do the Chinese give NASA permission to use their rocket?  Does Commander Lewis get wind of Purnell’s plan?  Do they think it’s feasible?

I liked the film adaptation of the book the Martian.  The problems I have with the story are the same problems I have with the book.  Can hydrogen be turned into water on Mars, even in a climate controlled environment? Can the Martian soil be fertilized so easily, by just dumping human feces on it?  Would the Pathfinder communications satellites be working after all those years of lying dormant on Mars?  My mind was reeling with questions, after reading the book? But the screenplay is better than the book in this way, the book tends to get bogged down in scientific terminology when trying to explain how Watney survives.  The screenplay streamlines the explanations and exposition, and gets from stranded, to survival to rescue mission much faster than the book does.  The humor in the book is also a vital part of the screenplay.

The acting also makes the characters better.  Matt Damon humanizes Watney, honestly I really thought Watney came off as a pompous jerk in the book, and I wondered why anyone would want to save him.  Damon makes him more likeable and gives him an everyman quality instead of a techie geek quality. This role and his role in Interstellar will surely revive Damon’s career. I also like Jessica Chastain as Commander Lewis, she exudes confidence in this role, despite the self-doubt she has to express when she leaves Watney behind.  The viewer can see why a crew would follow her on a mission.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Vincent Kapoor with a quiet confidence, and the viewer feels like everything will work out under his guidance.  He also plays the emotional scenes well, always understated not chewing scenery.  It’s a nice performance.  There has been some press asking why an Indian character named Venkat Kapoor in the book was played by the African-Englishman.  I don’t have a problem with it. Ejiofor is one of the best actors in film today, and certainly better than any Bollywood actor I’ve seen, so they made the character multiracial, that’s ok with me.  That said, Mindy Park should have been played by a Korean American actress, there was no reason for that casting decision.  Diversity in film is important, especially when the characters in the book are written as a certain ethnicity.  But, in its defense,  the film has a lot of diversity. Kudos to Michael Pena for handling the humor to his role well, Benedict Wong and Donald Glover played the humorous parts of their roles well.  Sean Bean is always good, and does not disappoint here

The direction by Ridley Scott is fast paced and decisive, he doesn’t linger too long on any one scene for too long.  The CGI is well done and really looks like the surface of Mars, the scenes in outer space are credible and Scott gets great performances out of the cast, although with a cast like this, that is not hard to do.

Here’s my book review of The Martian

The Martian:  Better Red (Planet) Than Dead.


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