The Martian Review: Matt Damon’s Sci-Fi Gets 4 Stars, Is “One of the Best of …

12 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Martian’ review: A captivating adventure.

Yup, The Martian — which premiered Sept. 11 at the Toronto International Film Festival — is that kind of picture. Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara say they did just that while shooting some of the zero-gravity scenes for the upcoming space epic The Martian.The actress tells THR that she has yet to share much screen time with Matt Damon after two projects, but praises him and Jennifer Lawrence for being a rare Hollywood find.‘Alien’ stylist Ridley Scott has rewritten the rules of sci-fi multiple times over his half-century career, but this time, the dystopian maestro sees hope in our stars. The film reaches for the dramatic tension of Apollo 13 and the 3D grandeur of Gravity, and while it doesn’t quite hit the highs of either, it’s still an exciting science-fiction tale of survival.

It’s totally, totally ridiculous, but within the confines of the frame, it totally works, and you can’t tell.” “The zero-gravity stuff I was really looking forward to. Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, stranded on the red planet when his crewmates believe he is dead, and forced to find a way to keep alive until he can contact Earth and be rescued. Here are five things we learned from the premiere screening: We’re used to seeing movies with astronauts floating around weightless, but realistically replicating the reduced gravity of Mars is still too tricky.

For full coverage of the 2015 Toronto Film Festival – including the hottest premieres, the biggest stars and the buzziest films – check out people.com/tiff, instyle.com and ew.com It won’t be easy, but it is possible — and that’s the exhilarating thrill of both Andy Weir’s speculative-fiction novel and screenwriter Drew Goddard’s “science fact” adaptation. Unlike the selfish space castaway he played in Interstellar, Damon’s astronaut botanist is charming, witty and goodhearted, and we desperately want him to survive.

Considering that the United States hasn’t launched a manned space mission since 2011, “The Martian” should do far more than just make Fox a ton of money; it could conceivably rekindle interest in the space program and inspire a new generation of future astronauts. For these sequences, he and other actors just stood on one leg and moved slowly as if freed from gravity while Scott photographed their faces. “Even as big as these movies are, and with all their production values, it’s just like you were as a kid in your bedroom and you were pretending to be in space — and it worked!” Mara admitted she “would never make it as an astronaut.” Yet she loved the zero gravity shoots. “It feels very much like a dance and there is choreography to it. As Mark Watney, Damon serves as the poster boy for these future space travelers, a good-humored, all-American team player who’s just 18 “sols” (or Martian days) into his mission when he is impaled by a communications antenna and left for dead by his colleagues during a forced evacuation. Watney is the lowest-ranking member of his team and the least equipped to handle such a situation — with one notable caveat: As a botany specialist, his assignment was to investigate whether plants could grow in an environment without fertilizer or water — and now, with only enough food to last 400 sols and the next planned mission nearly four years away, Watney’s ability to pull off that tall order will determine whether he lives or dies. Ridley — and maybe he was just faking it really well — he seemed just as excited as we did when were doing the scenes floating through the air.” The Martian is, in large part, a loner’s journey for survival.

Few directors have opted for Stanley Kubrick’s silent shots of spaceships in motion, but Scott includes a nice scene of Watney in his rover, terribly upset by news from home. There’s no obstacle that Damon’s ingenious astronaut isn’t able to “science the s— out of,” no setback that he can’t ultimately overcome.

Actually, there are a thousand different real-world things that could kill him, but it’s clear he won’t survive unless he manages to “cultivate” Mars. Damon said that 55 other actors had already wrapped on the film before he started his first scene. “It was a very different kind of movie for me … Large chunks of the movie go something like this: dire dilemma arises, Watney and/or earthbound scientists come up with a wildly creative solution, and we watch Watney hack and hammer it out. Before “Gravity,” studio executives might have thought twice before greenlighting such a big-budget space drama (surely such Mars-set disappointments as “Red Planet,” “John Carter” and “Mission to Mars” must give them pause), and while a good portion of “The Martian’s” audience will surely be hoping for a repeat of Sandra Bullock’s white-knuckle experience, Scott has a different agenda altogether. I literally just met most of the cast right now (before the TIFF press conference)!” Being alone on screen for most of his scenes was intimidating but did not freak him out, Damon said.

The Martian makes some references to Hohmann transfer orbits (a technical term for a low-energy way to get to Mars) and a few other specialized terms, but it’s mostly in plain English. After all, we’re talking about the man responsible for the second and third most influential sci-fi movies of all time (after “Star Wars”), and the director of such iconic pics as “Alien” and “Blade Runner” has better things to do than repeat himself — or anyone else, for that matter. “The Martian” innovates once again, this time moving in the direction of the plausible to present the most realistic version Scott and his team can manage of a manned mission to Mars (with a few well-chosen stylistic flourishes, courtesy of costume designer Janty Yates).

Though the film proves reasonably suspenseful in parts, Scott isn’t trying to generate the same realtime intensity as “Gravity” (in fact, “The Martian” takes place over nearly two years, demanding an altogether different pace), nor does he distract himself with attempting to pioneer the field of 3D filmmaking (though he does incorporate the technology in effective, yet nondistracting ways). Secondly, he said, “I didn’t feel I was going to bore anyone to tears because, if I started to do that, we could always cut back to the other story (involving the possible rescue mission). At its most basic, “The Martian” serves as an epic homage to the nerd — a deferential widescreen celebration of human intelligence in a genre that so often hinges on speed, braun or sheer midi-chlorian levels (thanks for nothing, George Lucas). So I had that going for me.” Scott enjoyed going back into space for another film. “The fantasy of space, which is now also a reality, is a marvellous platform and a form of theatre, if you like.

And while Watney may be stranded by himself on Mars, he’s anything but alone, with the best minds on earth working overtime to bring him home — if only he can figure out how to communicate with the good folks at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. Mars is so far away that even saying “No” and getting an unprintable response can take up to 45 minutes. (Judicious editing allows the film to show conversations that seem instantaneous but would actually take hours.) Nothing brings the people of this planet together quite like space travel, and Scott manages to alternate between the immediate Reader’s Digest appeal of Watney’s sol-to-sol survival on Mars with the unifying impact his potential rescue has back on earth, where TV viewers follow every development and the Chinese even declassify a secret space program in order to help. With no acid-dripping extra-terrestrials to menace him on Mars and no James Cameron-style greedy corporate villains ready to sacrifice him on earth (just Jeff Daniels, still in “The Newsroom” mode, as a pragmatic NASA honocho forced to make some tough calls), “The Martian” feels downright, well, Martian compared to the vast majority of space-travel dramas.

The sleek, science-friendly elegance of Arthur Max’s production design recalls “Silent Running” (another sci-fi parable with a botanist hero), its running series of logistical challenges echoes Arthur C. This was a much more realistic movie.” Scott was also comforted because he felt he cast well, including choosing Damon and Chastain to work with a stellar, multi-ethnic support group of Mara, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Aksel Hennie and emerging Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis (whom Scott discovered is a natural comedian). Clarke sequel “2010” and the highly visual, high-stakes decision making suggests Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine.” But instead of trying to scare people off space travel, Scott and company recombine these elements in hopes of inspiring a generation for whom the moon landing and shuttle missions are now ancient history, practically nostalgia, while the American space program sits mothballed.

He combines hydrogen and oxygen to make water. (For kindle, he takes apart one crew member’s wooden cross.) And soon enough — yes! — he’s able to communicate to NASA via a computer server. That was the hollow promise “Tomorrowland” offered this past summer, featuring a feel-good epilogue in which its white heroes recruited a diverse range of talented young people around the world. Scott recycles some of his cast (including mission commander Jessica Chastain) from Christopher Nolan’s eye-crossing “Interstellar,” in which Damon played an astronaut with far more sinister intentions, and though “The Martian” can be even more densely geek-speak in places, Goddard’s script manages to parse the technical jargon for lay viewers.

The idea here is to capitalize on the excitement of human ingenuity, the musical metaphor for which can be heard percolating behind the team’s every breakthrough— and they are a team. In a refreshing twist, there isn’t a single scene in which someone gives an overwrought speech or a room full of men breathlessly speak in a mythologized language. Whereas films prefer to cast heroism as the doing of a single rebellious soul, this one does justice to the idea (hammy when Michael Bay tries to show it, a la “Armageddon”) that truly amazing feats depend on the collaboration of exceptional people. Rather than giving Watney a Wilson volleyball or HAL-like supercomputer to chat with, Goddard relies on another of the book’s “Robinson Crusoe”-like touches (Daniel Dafoe’s novel was written in the character’s voice and fooled early readers as a faux travelogue), giving him amusing “HAB journal” entries — or video diaries — in which to document his own progress. Dariusz Wolski seamlessly eases audiences between the intimate loneliness of Watney’s habitat and the magisterial land- and space-scapes beyond — no easy feat, as Ray and Charles Eames’ “Powers of Ten” proved the year Scott made his directorial debut.

Though Watney has already proven his resourcefulness by doctoring his own puncture wound, his recordings serve the dual purpose of giving him a chance to explain complicated science ideas while endearing us to Damon’s naturally charismatic personality. The poor guy does his best to keep his mind active on Mars, but with only a collection of disco hits and “Happy Days” episodes to simulate human company, even the sanest astronaut would start to go a little stir crazy — although, admittedly, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” has seldom seemed a more appropriate anthem.

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