4 Oct 2015

Movie Review:The Martian (3D): High on engagement, light in tone

Sometime in the near future, a manned NASA mission on Mars is hit by a storm. One of the astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by flying debris, separated from his team and assumed dead. The storm escalates, forcing the crew to commence in haste on the 4-year trip home.
Alone on the planet, after agonizingly treating his injury, Watney finds the communications equipment destroyed. Using his skills as a botanist and his excreta, Watney grows potatoes in the artificial habitat, while calculating how long the food supplies will last, chances of making it and reaching out to NASA. Meanwhile, back on Earth, his employers waver at the unlikely prospect of rescue, while his home-bound crew is kept in the dark.         

Ridley Scott's best movies have meshed art and entertainment into one riveting force (Notably, in a decade and half - Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001)). For a director with a pendant for gray shades, The Martian is Scott's brightest film yet, glowing with high optimism, wisecracking, witticisms and an overall humourous tone. You sense that all will end well. Spoiler alert...nobody dies.Going back to the story tradition of one-man-against-the-elements that began with that 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, the director does enough, keeping us engrossed for over two hours. 

NASA Luxuries
The film reeks of USA's boastful dominance in space travel and rescue, Watney himself doesn't face many dangers, except for one major setback. That the films cuts between Mars, NASA and the Hermes space station gives it texture. As in a sole survivor movie, the lead actor has to click and Matt Damon does his thing almost effortlessly, post his Interstellar (2014) cameo, yet making us root for him. Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Michael Peña (another impressive cameo post Ant-Man) stand good as resourceful astronauts. Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Vincent Kapoor?!, nothing remotely Indian here!) fill in well as the NASA director and engineer, respectively.

What works
This is still a believable film, far from Interstellar's mind-boggling premise.There are some insights, but just in passing - the point of existence, human need to survive, celebrating life and indomitable will. A compromised lightness surrounds, although fun is where the film surprises us, through Watney's cheery tone, disco music talk/soundtrack, genius stereotypes, rescue plan chatter and F*** word text outbursts.
Nothing is shown of Watney's relatives, his parents barely mentioned, which goes with the film's flow. A couple of heart-rending moments, the understated overwhelming scale of it all, get to us through Damon. There is no encore, not one masterpiece scene or near-death agony, although the climatic sequence is quite a turn. Despite the lack of suspense, it all holds together. Floating between pure storytelling, semi-classic and audience-pleasing, The Martian is worth a cinema visit.   

Not one joyous 3D moment, 2D would have been fine 
Yet another rescue mission for Chiwetel Ejiofor