timthumbBy Tom Platt. Somewhere in the depths of the internet, the son of a particle physicist began releasing a novel one chapter at a time for free on his website. The Martian, by Andy Weir, quickly gained an obsessive following, leading to one of the strangest pairings in recent film history. What we are left with is an immediately successful, disco fueled, amazingly factual story that was born from the independent depths of the internet and made prominent by the factory that is end-of-summer Hollywood.

There’s no use in denying that Ridley Scott has a style that is, in the very least, consistent; any personal tastes aside, he is clearly a very capable storyteller, able to manipulate emotional rhetoric, and often shirking the need for heavy backstory baggage. His use of tried and true “heartstring plucking” can leave even the most critical of viewers battling with the lump that is undeniably stuck in their throat.

The Martian tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney (played by chronic lost boy Matt Damon), a man left for dead on Mars after being struck by debris and separated from his crew during an emergency evacuation of the planet. Left to his own ingenuity, as well as an onslaught of fight or flight responses, Watney must do everything he can to survive this inhospitable planet while he tries to reestablish contact with Earth.

Ridley Scott, just like novelist Andy Weir before him, spent countless hours consulting with scientists (and at times NASA itself) in an attempt to create a story that was anything but science fiction. This commitment to plausible reality allows The Martian to bolster the public image of NASA in a way that other films such as Gravity or Interstellar simply never could, or were ever meant to. The Martian feels like a real event particularly because it takes place with our feet planted firmly on land instead of making our stomachs heave through the vacuum of space. The audience is grounded with the characters as it watches a story that could have just as easily have taken place in Antarctica as it did on Mars. It feels plausible to the point that it almost shouts to its PG-13 audience “Hey, everyone! We can actually do this, NASA can actually do this. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!”

With the entirety of mankind rooting for Watney’s safe return home it’s easy to forget that he is all alone up there. Breaking the mold of what a movie about isolation is supposed to be, The Martian splits its runtime across over a dozen secondary characters, spending so much time away from our protagonist that we’re left a bit confused, at least emotionally. Dramatic scenes of Watney’s triumph and heartbreak spastically punctuate a surprisingly comedic story, and while both elements work well independently the tonal transitions are still missing a touch of grace.


While I’m not entirely unconvinced that Matt Damon isn’t turning into Tom Hanks, his ability to provide depth to Watney’s limited dramatic time on screen is undoubtedly impressive. Forced positivity in the face of insurmountable odds can take a toll, but it still cuts deep thanks to Damon’s ability to successfully swing from soaring highs to crushing lows.

The Martian is a very direct movie; it allows little time for poetry (let alone theme). It’s a story that portrays Mars and space as if it they were within our reach as opposed to being overrun with aliens or overwrought with existentialism. Space is, once again, offered to anyone who dares to dream of it, portraying scientists and astronauts with a cavalier humanness that makes them relatable and, at times, damn near inspiring. But the roots of the tree do not run deep, and The Martian seems to instill very little in its audience beyond, “well, wasn’t that cool!”

It’s not my place to bash a movie that ultimately an inoffensive thing, and one that many people, I think, will find entertaining (I finished my popcorn, at least). What I hope to do instead is simply ask, “yeah, but don’t you think it could’ve been better?” Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain: these are all very talented individuals capable of leaving audiences breathless with their well practiced sleight of hand. And yet here we are with nothing more than a movie that’s nice to eat popcorn to and think, “Woah, science is crazy!” There’s nothing wrong with that, but it never hurts to ask: could this have been so much more? With Ridley Scott, I think we all know the answer to that.