Here we are. Back in space... again.
For the past three years, for some inexplicable reason, we have been getting hyper scientific movies about why we should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER go to space. Seriously, if Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian have taught me anything, it's that if I go to space, I will most likely die a horrible, gruesome death. Thankfully though, both Gravity and Interstellar have been really good movies, so even though I'm now terrified to go to space, at least I cemented my fears in a very artistic manner. Not only were both movies on my best of the year lists, but they've also garnered huge approval from the science community for their scientific accuracy. So what about this year's obligatory sci-fi space epic, The Martian? Is it another dose of scientific and cinematic genius, or should we have left Matt Damon on Mars to die by himself? Well to answer that, let's talk about Gravity!
You may recall that one of my earliest reviews was of Gravity, a technical masterpiece that I still would call one of my favorite sci-fi movies of all time. Looking back, Gravity is both incredibly similar to The Martian as well as diametrically different. Both revolve around the same central premise; our main character (Matt Damon here) has been stranded in space with no way back, so he has to Macguyver his way back home and not die. Both The Martian and Gravity are telling the same story, but it's how they do it that sets them apart. In Gravity, the focus was on the raw thrills of the experience, key word being experience. It felt like you were in space and that you were emotionally connected to the characters because you felt like you were in space with them. In The Martian, it's clearly trying to tell a very grounded story and while the audience can most certainly become connected to Matt Damon and his struggles, that wasn't the point of the movie. The point was to show how he could live on Mars for over a year and how he could get back.
The Martian loooooooooves to talk about its science and to explain how Matt Damon is staying alive, and it's actually really interesting to see. Keep in mind, I'm a man who pretty much barely got a B- in high school physics, so I'm the last person to be on the up and up about science, botany, astrophysics, and how to live on a deserted planet with no food or water, but I was interested in seeing how the movie logically explained how it was possible. I had a blast listening to Matt Damon science his way back to Earth for about two and a half hours.
If Gravity was to give you an adrenaline rush and Interstellar was to punch you in the soul, The Martian wants to stimulate your mind. If I had to choose between the three, I would still say that Gravity was the better movie, but hot damn does The Martian get pretty close to that. It was a slow burn of a movie, and even though it had a lot of bumps, it was all there to ask a single question: Can they save him?
Even though I loved seeing Matt Damon on Mars, that really only accounts for half of the movie. The other half of the movie is spent zooming across the Earth from NASA, to Florida, to China, to even a space station returning from Mars. Ever scientist on the planet wants to get involved in this movie and have their say, making the cast bloat up to an incredible size. We have the main staff at NASA, the engine developers, the shuttle developers, the astrophysicist with a plan to save Matt Damon, several normal staff members at NASA, the Chinese government, the tech company that established communication with Matt Damon, and even the five person crew on the space station who left him behind in the first place (they thought he was dead, don't worry). In a rough estimation, there are 16 people involved with the logistics of how they're gonna get him back, and it just seems too cluttered. The movie is at its best when it's show just how Matt Damon can survive on Mars, not how to get him off of it. It's much more interesting to see him in this strange new world than seeing people talk about how to get him off of Mars.
And despite all of that, I feel like when I am on Mars, it's so damned engrossing. True story, I was never going to see The Martian. I had little to no interest in seeing it, but I decided to see it on a whim. I went into town and sat down for the movie, and after the first ten minutes or so, I was hooked. But I wasn't hooked like I normally am with a movie. I was glued to the screen and the movie would not let me lose focus. Even when I wasn't that interested in seeing the NASA scientists talk about the logistics and practicality of getting him off Mars, I still wanted to see where the movie was going. Granted, the climax was a bit underwhelming to me and most just resulted in a more cinematic and tepid version of Gravity, but it was still a good ending. Plus, how can you resist that Matt Damon charm?
I was going to make this review a lot longer than it was going to be, but honestly, the most interesting thing for me to talk about, besides the fact that The Martian is fantastic, was to compare it to Gravity and Interstellar, two other space survival stories that were equally fantastic, though for different. Reasons. In fact, I'm going to make this into a new genre right now. These three movies are "Space survival" movies. They're movies where everything that can go wrong in space does goes wrong, and yet it's not done in a cartoony or fictional manner. They're realistic and could legitimately happen, making them stories where you want to know if any of the characters will make it out alive.
The last time I covered a Ridley Scott movie was Exodus Gods and Kings, a movie so bad that I felt rejuvenated through my hatred of it and his work. Now, I appreciate the man again and The Martian almost excuses how bad that movie was. The Martian is so good that I have now officially forgiven Mr. Scott for Exodus. I still haven't forgiven him for Prometheus (and I'm sure no one will for the foreseeable future), but it's a start.
The Martian is a smart and satisfying science thriller. It's more brain than action, but it'll still get the blood pumping.
What else do you want me to say? I'm slaying to get my Top 10 Best Horror Movie list ready for Halloween. Leave me alone.
It's great. And it's Matt Damon. And it's space.