My Rating: 8.5 out of 10
In what I would consider one of the very best movies of the year, astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) finds himself presumed dead and stranded on Mars all in the first 15-20 minutes. From there, he must use his knowledge of botany and engineering in order to survive and contact NASA so he can be rescued before the harsh climate on Mars kills him. The premise of The Martian is certainly familiar as are some of the major plot elements. However, what makes the film so fascinating is the way in which it tells its story and grounds nearly everything in actual science.
This is the third year in a row in which a space-based survival story has made a major impact around the holidays, as well as the second year in a row that Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon have appeared in one of these films. When comparing The Martian to both Interstellar and Gravity, its story is definitely more similar to Gravity due to it being about survival in a foreign environment. However, the science in The Martian is closer to reality (based on various interviews with actual NASA scientists) and there is a large element of teamwork involved in Mark Watney’s survival story compared to that of Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, who needed to go it alone for nearly the entire film. It goes without saying that The Martian is also more realistic than Interstellar, which focused largely on theoretical physics. However, both films are similar in the sense that they feature interactions between a crew of astronauts as well as the ground control teams, admittedly in very different ways.
The Martian also managed to tread a fine line between the approaches of both other films when it came to explaining the complex science behind the plot. Gravity left the science largely out of the equation and focused more on Sandra Bullock’s character and her journey; whereas Interstellar utilized the science to increase the epic feel of the movie, but didn’t stop to explain very much which left many audience members confused. The Martian doesn’t try to “dumb-down” the science or ignore it (as the science itself makes up a great deal of the story), but it also manages to use exposition in clever ways to have characters explain some aspects of what they are doing to the audience. The use of comedy throughout the film, especially from Mark Watney himself, helped to make the story a bit less bleak than its recent cinematic predecessors.
In my opinion, the ability of the filmmakers to adapt this story (which was originally a novel) and present it in the way they did allowed them to create a movie that had some of the best elements of Gravity and Interstellar, but was still very much its own project. While I would say that Interstellar and Gravity were a touch better because their themes were a little deeper and the characters a little more flawed, many people would certainly argue that The Martian’s focus on realistic science and its use of less depressing plot points made the film the best of the three. With this said, there was a point in which it became apparent how the film would end, which is something that I couldn’t say to the same extent for Gravity which kept my heart beating until the very last shot or Interstellar which ended with its own batch of surprises.
If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend seeing The Martian in theatres. The cinematography alone is incredible and would probably look amazing on IMAX (though I didn’t get the chance to see it in that format). But, of course, the story and acting is phenomenal. The journey is heart pounding, yet moving and somewhat funny that left me wanting to see more. And while the runtime is near 2.5 hours, the film was made in a way that makes the time go by in a way that makes it unnoticeable. Though I can’t say for sure, I would be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of Oscar nominations for this fantastic movie.