The Martian, starring Matt Damon, is a thrilling action-adventure movie about persistence and ingenuity. Set in the near future, it is a realistic and believable rescue tale of both individual grit and unselfish teamwork.
What is it about?
The description of “Apollo 11 meets Cast Away” is spot-on. A team of Mars explorers is forced to evacuate the planet and abandon their fellow astronaut, believing him dead. The marooned Mark Watney (Matt Damon) wakes up to discover he has not died, and thereafter stubbornly refuses to do so. It is a gripping tale of Boy Scout-style extreme wilderness survival and MacGyver-like ingenuity.
Do I need to have read the book to enjoy it?
Caveat: I haven’t read the book, so the answer is no. There are no gaping holes of missing background exposition in this film. The acclaimed well-researched, tech-heavy science of the book gets artfully incorporated into the screenplay without alienating the non-geek audience.
Will I like it?
Yes. I briefly checked the ratings before I went (having been burned on Fantastic Four), and it lived up to every star. If you are a geek (presumably you aren’t reading this by accident), there’s something there for you, from the techy science to the Kubrick-esque space scenes. Let’s be clear though–there are no actual ‘alien’ Martians, just in case you were expecting that.
Will my kids like it?
This is not a movie suitable for young children. Neither is it really a teen movie. Ultimately it’s more drama than sci-fi, albeit with a much faster pace than Interstellar. There are no laser guns, love stories or punch-ups, but there’s still enough action and adventure to interest some youngsters.
Is the rating appropriate?
In Australia, The Martian is rated M (for age 15+). In the US, it’s PG-13, citing some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity. This amounts to just a handful of F-words (verbal, written, or just mouthed), and Damon’s bum. Having said that, the themes of persistence and endurance and of the ordinary person doing extraordinary things under pressure are a healthy food for young minds compared to the relatively amoral gun-fests and sex-romps often pitched to youngsters. Other than the occasional bad language (which arguably the movie could have done without) this is a clean movie with positive themes.
When is a good time for a bathroom break?
Before the movie or after it. If you have a weak bladder, bring a bedpan. Honestly, the plot didn’t stop moving, and it felt like the tension was constantly being reapplied just when you thought things were turning out OK. But if you simply can’t make it, perhaps the scene where the two Chinese officials start talking (in Chinese) is a good cue. The supplementary feel-good theme of international cooperation may be lost, but you can take it for granted that someone found a spare rocket from somewhere, and the plot is scarcely affected.
How’s the special effects?
The panoramas of Mars are spectacular, and you never doubt for a second that you are actually there. I was also impressed with the zero-gravity shots. Ever since I learned about “actors-on-wires” I’ve been almost seeing them in other space movies killing the magic ever so slightly, but this one had me wondering how on earth (or otherwise) they managed it.
What about the acting?
First of all, I’m a big fan of Matt Damon, even though I think he doesn’t have a necessarily broad spectrum of emotional styles. He fits into the main role smoothly, and the fact that his character rarely loses his cool (or otherwise wouldn’t have survived) fits the actor’s style perfectly. Jeff Daniels was a convincing director of NASA–constantly weighing up the big decisions, but seldom conflicted. Sean Bean played his rather rebellious foil doing the wrong things for the right reasons–in one scene I almost hoped he’d bust out a Boromir line. Of the minor roles, my favorite was Donald Glover, the super-nerd who saves the day with a shining scene of his own that would resonate with any slightly-socially-outcast geek.
How’s the music?
A soundtrack as unexpected for a sci-fi movie as Guardians of the Galaxy‘s was. You might not necessarily run out and buy the CD unless you really like ’80s disco, in which case you probably don’t need to. But the music actually formed a plot point and helped to break up the non-stop tension.
Is the 3D worth it?
I watched it in 2D only, and I can’t imagine that the alternative would add much more. If you get a kick out of the 3D experience then perhaps some Mars surface vistas or zero-gravity floating shrapnel might be fun. But the movie is not dominated by such shots, and it didn’t seem like there were any Avatar-style made-for-3D moments that would be lost in two dimensions.
Do I need to stay to the end of the credits?
The final scene forms part of and flows nicely into the start of the credits. You might skip it if you really want to beat the crowds to the car park, but I thought it was a nice epilogue worth staying for. After that, I didn’t stay until the final curtain (see above regarding bathroom breaks).