by Michael Reistetter
Being labeled the “Anti-Interstellar” by several critics can be awfully misleading. “The Martian,” while not the cinematographic masterpiece Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film “Interstellar” was, still proved to be quite the experience. The directing was exceptional, the special effects proliferated as expected, and of course, Matt Damon gave a heartwarming performance as stranded Astronaut Mark Watney, who is left on Mars and presumed dead by his space task-force team.
The opening sequence of the film intends to draw you in with exciting graphics and manipulative CGI effects depicting outer space, but we’ve seen that before, Ridley Scott. As I sat in the theater, I thought to myself, “Challenge me, Ridley. Show me something we haven’t seen in a space-related film before, otherwise these next two hours and 36 minutes are going to be a waste.” And boy, did Ridley deliver.
Black holes and time bending did not play a factor in this drama. A miss-marketed “sci-fi” epic inadvertently turned out to be of the “buddy comedy” variety. In “The Martian,” the two ‘buddies’ in reference are Mark Watney and the planet of which he is the sole inhabitant, Mars.
We’ve heard of NASA and other organizations discovering water or potential for living organisms to grow on Mars before. In fact, my own father even worked as the shipping manager for a company who sent a robot to Mars for image-rendering recon. For this reason, I was personally pleased with the series of “plot shifts.” Scott interwove scenes depicting Damon’s quest for survival on his new and unfamiliar home, with the bureaucratic nature behind NASA’s plans to rescue Watney and “Bring Him Home (A simple but effective tagline on the film’s poster, might I add.)
While the NASA scenes were acted out extremely well by known stars like Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristin Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover, the audience is constantly left eagerly demanding more Damon. We want to see his survival. To see Damon channel his inner Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and whether or not that Radioactive Isotope he picks up will become his Wilson (I don’t think I was the only one thinking that either, but he actually participated in single-sided interactions and dialogue through video logs to maintain his morale instead.)
But Damon keeps it cool. He stays calm and composed in a circumstance that could, at any moment, snowball into a surreal bubble of isolated panic. While a triumphant orchestral score dominates the more dramatic scenes, “The Martian” offers hope through nostalgic disco tunes, and the saving grace of Damon’s humorous criticisms regarding the only options for entertainment. His improvisations and consistent one-liners help bring an “Earthy” flare to an “Earth-less” planet.
This film is almost guaranteed to be yet another Sci-fi film to be ignored come award season. What a shame, considering those who truly allow this film to take hold of their imaginative processes, will recognize it’s not even a sci-fi film at all. It’s both a comedic and dramatic take on the “Fish out of water” formulaic model. Whether the hero is victorious in his journey back home or not (see the film for yourself to find out!), you are left entertained throughout by tremendous acting, an effective musical score, and a brilliant script.