I know this will seem boorish, but let me first list those four things before talking about the good stuff. It is truly astonishing to find a modern sci-fi that is, first of all, actually sci-fi and not just a soap opera in space with cool metallic sets with lots of blinking lights. But to find one with so few flaws, it is worth mentioning those few flaws:
The four stupid things:
1) This is a sort of a MacGyver-in-space film, so you first have to set up the situation wherein (click here) is in survival mode. The producers do it by suddenly making a team of astronauts stupid-as-sheep in the face of an oncoming storm about which they had plenty of advance notice. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that as the minimum wage increases ever upward, some day you’ll be able to qualify for a NASA flight by filling out a form at a kiosk. It seemed like that kind of crew.
2) When it turns out that (click here) is not actually dead on Planet Mars (although he has been assumed to be), the director of NASA (lately known for stupid directors but not dumb-and-dumber ones), Jeff Daniels, decides that it is for the best not to tell the returning crew of the failed mission about the survival of (click here) because he thought it would distract them. The crew is seen to be down in the dumps. It’s obvious that knowing their buddy was alive would have been a morale boost. A horribly stupid plot point.
3) In order to extend the state-of-disaster for (click here), in the middle of the film they add a second staged disaster. It was a bit much.
4) Despite his (the click-here-guy) generally bland crew mates, the film is free of obvious token multicultural characters and characters who are annoyingly eccentric. But what movie can last without at least one? We get that in the horrible performance of Donald Glover who tries to play some kind of OCD scientist but just comes off as silly. But the rest of the cast (including click-here) are free from the typical goofball traits that modern goofball filmmakers stick onto their characters like gum on a shoe.
There. That’s it. That’s the entirety of the stupid stuff. To backward-evaluate most movies would take ten thousand words or more. But to be able to highlight the bad stuff so briefly is a credit to director Ridley Scott and writers Drew Goddard (a great name for a NASA sci-fi flick) and Andy Weir.
The film is laced with light bits of humor but never do we have (click here) acting like a buffoon. His character is nuanced and believable, including showing the few goofy things a person would actually do if marooned on Mars for hundreds of days all by oneself.
This is clearly meant to be a general-audience film. It’s light on science and the MacGyver stuff doesn’t go into great detail, although there are several moments where there is emphasis given to the inherent interest of technology and problem-solving itself. Not enough for my taste, but mercifully the movie did not lapse into silly. Most sci-fi films these day (Gravity, Interstellar) are relative jokes in terms of actual sci-fi.
Whether (click here) makes it back to earth or not I’ll leave to your imagination. This is a film worth watching. (click here) plays an engaging character who is very artful and human in ways not encumbered by the typical emasculated male typical of today. He’s tough, brave, and yet shares an appreciation for the stark beauty of the Mars landscape, something that is wonderfully front-and-center in this film.
There have been a host of awful movies (such as Red Planet or Mission to Mars) which wasted the opportunity of showing us the personality of the actual planet that is the setting of the film. In The Martian, it’s obviously CGI, not cinematography, per se But those who fashioned the special effects had the instincts of a top-flight cinematographer. In this sugar-rush world of dumbed-down tastes and short attention spans, this movie dares to show us long stretches of nothing but the spectacular surface of Mars. A rare thing to have a movie of any sort these days that is not goofball from start to finish. This is one of them.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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