I caught “The Martian” over the weekend, in a well-packed theater, and while I found it a reasonably entertaining fusion of, say, “Castaway” and “Apollo 13,” I wasn’t blown away by it. I’m still mentally processing why that was. Ridley Scott knows his way around a movie, of course, and Matt Damon did a good job breathing life into his role, but I’m not sure if it was the source material itself that was perhaps somewhat lacking, but it didn’t dazzle me.
There were a lot of decent actors in it, decently acting, a lot of disco music through it, but maybe that was part of what bothered me — there were several running jokes in it that kept being run with, to the point where, for me, it was like “Yes, I get it. Commander Lewis loves disco. I got it.” Sean Bean was sort of inexplicably present in it as a mission commander, but without much to do beyond grimacing craggily and being part of a “Lord of the Rings” gag at one point within it that I found mildly entertaining.
The setting of Mars itself was fairly well done, but there was just something missing in it for me that had me finding it entertaining without being fully compelling. I think maybe because I had no doubt that the hero would, in fact, be rescued, there was a lack of drama for me, there. Also perhaps the “world is watching” kind of vibe took the story away from Damon’s survival plight and pushed it worldwide, which diminished his particular story in favor of that larger narrative.
Things I liked about it: it was definitely full of science and math, and that was nice to see, in a cultural sense, as we watch America slide on those fronts. There was no way the hero (or anybody else) was going to be able to pray his way out of his situation; only science could save him, from start to finish. It’s nice to see that unabashedly present in a mainstream cinematic release.
The curious emphasis on the Chinese at a key point was sort of jarring — it made me think there was some adroit marketing in place, throwing some thing in there in hopes of having international success by tipping the hat to the Chinese (as the future world superpower, there’s perhaps a sense of a torch being passed from America to them, including through NASA, at least in this movie).
While the story is fashioned as a science fiction story, it’s more science fiction than Science Fiction, in a way. It’s a fictional story with science in it, versus being a SF story. And it’s interesting how we’ve slid as a species in our dreams of the stars that the grand vistas of space give way to a survival narrative on a nearby planet.
“Apollo 13” compelled because it was about a real situation that was unbelievably tense. “Castaway” worked (perhaps to a lesser extent) because of the very close focus on the Tom Hanks character, that sense of marooning and his incredible loneliness. By fusing the two concepts into one, however, “The Martian” loses some key elements of its source material, and while it exuberantly cruises through its plot, it didn’t quite nail it for me.
I liked it, but wasn’t blown away by it. I wanted to like it more than I actually did. Some movies I see, I’m happy to see again and again; “The Martian” is one I saw, and only need to see once.