Monday, October 5, 2015

The Martian

Short version: See this movie. Now. Don't waste time reading this review, just go to a movie theater. I'll wait.

Are you back? Okay, then let's discuss. And I might get a little spoilery, since I know you just went to see it. (You did, right? You wouldn't lie to a partially omniscient narrator would you?)

This movie is going to go down as one of the classic hard science fiction movies of all time. Period. 'Nuff said. I cannot think of another movie that is both a better love letter to science and a better example of fiction.

If you haven't read the book, you should do that. The book is also terrific. It is everything the movie is, but four times over. And what is phenomenal is that I can't say which is better. The book has a lot more detail, a lot more of the math, and a number of other near-death scenarios that Watney narrowly avoids. So it's like a longer version of the same movie, that manages to keep the awesome levels that high the whole time. What the book lacks, of course, are the awesome visuals. There are also some things (like how emaciated Watney becomes) that are just more viscerally present on the screen than in print.

So, let's do the breakdown. Matt Damon was absolutely perfect as Mark Watney. Spot on perfect. Michael Pena serves as an excellent foil as Martinez, the pilot. Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers some great emotional scenes as Vincent Kapoor. (I do share the puzzlement of others that they couldn't get an actual Indian actor to play Kapoor, but I can't argue with Ejiofor's delivery.) And Jeff Daniels, whom I find hit or miss at best, does a great job as the Director of NASA.

The science was delivered very well. If you're not into physics (like, oh, my wife), I think it would roll over you like any technobabble. If you are into physics, though, it has a ring of validity. I don't know enough to even begin to check the figures, but it all sounds right. And it's gotten the thumbs up from a number of people who do know enough. Also importantly, all the NASA equipment looked good. It looked right. It looked like the stuff at the Air and Space Museum. That kind of thing is very easy to hand-wave in the book, but is so important to get right on the screen.

The other thing to get right for the screen? Mars. And damn, Mars was gorgeous. But also so very stark and deadly. There was never any question that that desert would kill Mark given the slightest chance. And at no point did I have either a sense that it was CGI or a "Paramount backlot" moment. I'm guessing that they found some great desert in Jordan (based on the credits) and just shifted all the colors to the red. But damn it, it looks good.

Of course, with every review I like to touch on the feminist angle. I'm not sure that this movie actually passes the Bechdel Test. There might be a conversation between Lewis and Johanssen that I'm forgetting about. I actually find this surprising, given the number of female characters. But they are all segregated. The only people the crew talks to is Mark and Mitch. The only people the PR woman talks to are the other executives, who are all male. The only person Mindy Park talks to is Kapoor. The only person the Chinese scientist talks to is the other Chinese scientist. There are LOTS of good female characters, but they just don't talk to each other.

On the other hand, it's pretty easy to point to Lewis as passing the Mako Mori Test. Even with the abbreviated spotlight in the movie, you can see her arc of questioning her leadership. It's fantastic, it's strong, and she doesn't come across as a bitch. Indeed, none of the women come across with any of the standard female failings. They aren't bitchy, they aren't airheads, they aren't slutty, they aren't substitute mothers. They are just people, just like the male characters. And it's funny how that doesn't ruin the movie. Hmm.

In conclusion, see this movie. See it again. Buy it. Buy memorabilia, because it's going to be worth something in about fifty years. This movie is guaranteed to make an impact.

P.S. Sean Bean. Council of Elrond. How did I not see that reference coming?!?!

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