'The Martian' - A Cleverly Disguised Sci-Fi
In the 2016 The Hollywood Reporter Oscar roundtable, several directors (Tarantino, Iñarritu, Boyle) discussed the different ways they deal with the stress and complications of a film set. When the turn came to Ridley Scott, he proclaimed with an overwhelming, almost arrogant, certainty that making movies didn't create any kind of tension for him.
“I’m strategist. This is physically pretty straightforward. You watch the problem coming out on the horizon and you knock its head off before it gets near you.” The moderator insisted, “What was your toughest challenge on The Martian?”
“None. It was pretty straightforward."
It's easy to understand how Scott, after reading the screenplay adaptation by the great Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, Lost, The Cabin in the Woods) of the successful Andy Weir novel, quickly decided to take the creative reins of the project. The Martian, through its protagonist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is a fantastic tale about planning. Mark, like Scott, is a strategist who is confronted with one of the greatest adversities any human can face, decides to not lose his composure, plan his course of action, do the work, and attack the obstacles that arise one by one.
Imagine a biopic-docudrama, like Ron Howard's Apollo 13, but with a greater dose of humor. Now understand that this is a science fiction film based on Mars. That’s The Martian, a story so well told that you can easily forget that we are still more than a decade away from even having the possibility of making the first manned trip to the red planet.
The success of The Martian is due to a mixture of factors. First, and most important, is that the topic of colonizing Mars is undoubtedly (unless aliens invade us in the next ten years) the next step that will change our scientific paradigm, so our imagination is already predisposed to that future "fact."
Then there's the technical rigor with which the project was attacked. With constant collaboration from NASA, every decision and plot-twist in the story were consulted and designed in the most realistic way possible.
What's Your Rating For The Martian?
And then, of course, there is the narrative technique. Ridley Scott fills the film with shots that emulate recordings of various CCTV or portable devices. Whether in the visual logs recorded by Mark, the helmet-mounted GoPros, or the Rover and "Hab" security cameras, we unconsciously record and interpret the images of the odyssey of our self-proclaimed Mars colonist/space pirate Mark Watney as a documentary. Combine that with a cast full of brief but interesting characters embodied with a memorable cast (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, and Kristen Wiig among others) and a great score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and the result is predictably great.
The Martian doesn't have the grandiosity or metaphysical suspense of other films like Gravity or Interstellar, and that's precisely its strength. This is a thoroughly credible biopic, whose love letter to science is not limited to a romantic vision but a detailed epic survival guide.
The Martian is one of those few stories whose the antagonist is not embodied in any person or creature, but in personal defeat in the face of adversity. The conflict is having the motivation and the strength to utilize knowledge. And to that, everyone can relate.
Title: The Martian
Release Year: 2015
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Writer(s): Drew Goddard, Andy Weir (sci fi novelist)
Actors: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Micael Pena a.o.