A return to form for director Ridley Scott, “The Martian” opened on Oct. 2 to overwhelming critical and commercial success. The opening weekend box office for the film was $55 million, on par with the success of “Gravity” in 2013.
Adapted from Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, “The Martian” details the time spent of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) on the red planet after he is presumed dead. Alone on an unknown world, Watney discovers the strength needed to survive while the human race comes together to bring him home.
One of the first things that struck me upon exiting the theater was just how uplifting the film was at times. It is easy to imagine a film about isolation being bleak, but the collaboration between Weir and screenwriter Drew Goddard made for a surprisingly fun and comedic film.
With a film that is essentially an updated version of “Cast Away,” there is obviously going to be a lot of time spent alone with the main character. Damon tends to be a hit or miss actor. He has been great in the works like “The Departed” and the Bourne franchise, but the last time he was in a science-fiction film, “Interstellar,” he was one of the weakest aspects of the movie. Here, however, his charismatic performance brought the scenes on Mars to life and made the movie a pleasure to watch. He also handled the more intense dramatic sequences, particularly a surgery scene early in the film, with a cool dignity.
Speaking of hit or miss, this is Scott’s first film since “American Gangster” in 2007 to be a solid critical success around the board, excluding “Prometheus,” which was hailed by some and booed by others. It is well deserving of its Rotten Tomato score of 93%, as Scott brought the Martian landscape to life with impressive visuals and several intense sequences. The jaw dropping finale of the film left my palms sweaty and my popcorn bucket empty.
Although a lot of the film is spent on Mars, there is a large portion centered on Earth-based characters, which brings me to my one major criticism. None of the supporting cast members gave bad performances per se, but the list of secondary characters was a bit too extensive to be handled correctly. I understand that the characters were pulled straight from the book, but as an adaptation, some elements became superfluous. Several of the scientist characters could have been condensed into a single, better fleshed out character instead of several characters whose names I don’t remember. I’m still not sure what Kristen Wiig was doing in this movie.
The film also had a minor pacing issue when it came to some of the Earth scenes. It has been rumored that Goddard was contractually obligated by NASA to include certain scenes and lines of dialogue. I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of this, but I would be able to understand if it were true, seeing as a 20 minute scene on Earth dropped the ball for a little while.
This is easily forgiven and forgotten however when considering just how smart and well-crafted the film is on the whole. It is not only a fun time at the movies, but an interesting look at space exploration in the near future.