Review: THE MARTIAN (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Review: THE MARTIAN (2015)

Ridley Scott's sci-fi comeback is well-acted and visually stunning, but emotionally-hollow space drama.

After back-to-back creative failures in THE COUNSELOR (2013) and EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014), Ridley Scott returns to his familiar sci-fi territory in THE MARTIAN. Already screened at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival to near-universal acclaim, I was really curious to find out whether THE MARTIAN is as true as most critics said or just an overhyped movie. The good news is, THE MARTIAN turns out to be an entertaining effort but far from the sort of greatness that I was hoping for in the first place.


Based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, THE MARTIAN revolves around astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who is presumed dead and left behind by his crew after a devastating storm jeopardised their manned mission to Mars. But Watney is actually still alive, and he's all alone on the red planet with only a limited amount of supplies. As NASA gradually learns about his survival, they are devising a rescue plan to bring him home while Watney has to use all his skills and knowledge in order to stay alive as long as possible.


From his seminal genre classics in ALIEN (1979) and BLADE RUNNER (1982), to PROMETHEUS (2012), Scott's sci-fi pictures is often blessed with spectacular visual and top-notch production. THE MARTIAN is no exception. Technical credits -- ranging from Dariusz Wolski's arresting cinematography to Arthur Max's meticulous production design -- are all aces.

As for Scott's direction, THE MARTIAN marks a refreshing change of pace from his usual doom-and-gloom science fiction formula. This is largely thanks to Drew Goddard, whose adapted screenplay has a sense of feel-good factor rarely seen in a Ridley Scott's movie. On top of that, Scott and Goddard's science-heavy approach in THE MARTIAN does not only aimed squarely for die-hard fans of such genre or science geeks, but also accessible enough for general viewers to enjoy learning all the technobabbles related to space technology and problem-solving strategies in a layman's terms.

Most of the star-studded cast, which also includes secondary characters with the likes of Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Benedict Wong, Kate Mara and Donald Glover, is reasonably solid in their respective roles.

But of course, the central attraction here remains to be Matt Damon as Mark Watney, whose effortless charm and upbeat personality makes him instantly likable. In fact, his heavily-quotable "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this" will be remembered as one of the most memorable catchphrases in years to come.


The amusing but educational moment where astrodynamicist Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) uses stapler, pen, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and NASA public relations specialist Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig), to demonstrate his rescue plan; and the gripping GRAVITY-like set-piece during the space rescue in the finale.


For a movie that is supposed to embrace the meaning of hope and optimism, there's still one thing curiously missing here: emotion. Unlike movies that involved a character stranded in the remote location, say, Tom Hanks in CAST AWAY (2000) and Sam Rockwell in MOON (2009), THE MARTIAN doesn't delve deep into Watney's psyche. Don't get me wrong, I do admire his sense of confidence as he copes with difficult situations -- such as attempting to grow a food crop and creates water source on the red planet -- in a calm and professional manner. But deep down, I don't feel emotionally invested with his character to see whether or not he makes it back home alive. After all, he spends most of his time cracking wise, which in turn, makes me even harder to take him seriously. While it's understandable that making jokes does help ease the tension, too many of them give me a bad impression as if stranded on Mars is like another typical day at work.

THE MARTIAN also suffers some pacing issues that tend to deflate the momentum of the movie. This is especially evident during the earthbound setting, where the movie has to juggle too many characters in both NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) facilities.


Although the overall movie is far from Ridley Scott's best directing effort, THE MARTIAN remains a decent crowd pleaser for both science fiction fans and mainstream viewers.

* This review is written courtesy from 20th Century Fox Malaysia press screening *

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