Walter recently commented that perhaps I had been too generous in my praise for the obscure indie films I watched at the Edmonton International Film Festival. I thought he might have had a point until I saw the critically-acclaimed Hollywood film The Martian. Despite its many positive attributes, The Martian felt so ‘Hollywood’, so light and, yes, so inferior, when compared to the rawness and the poetry of many of the festival films. Sicario (review pending) didn’t feel that way, but then it’s also an independent (Lionsgate) film.
I had hoped Ridley Scott’s The Martian would be this year’s Interstellar or Gravity. And it does have a lot going for it. At the top of the list is the gorgeous cinematography (in 2D) that was unaffected by the fact that the film was made for 3D. This is quite an astonishing achievement on its own and deserves high praise. Then there’s the great cast, led by Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor, with the likes of Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels in the smaller roles (loved the line where Bean’s character responds to a question about the Council of Elrond - Bean should know). The well-written dialogue is full of such witty lines, with an obvious leaning, throughout, toward the lighthearted. A film about an astronaut (Mark Watney, played by Damon) stranded on Mars with little hope of survival before he can be rescued could have been very dark. Instead, The Martian gives us a Disney-like fun space adventure.
There is certainly something to be said for making a fun and hopeful space adventure with great characters (though not well-developed ones), intelligent writing, excellent acting (Damon was a perfect casting choice) and top-notch production values. As a sci-fi buff, I had no trouble enjoying The Martian from beginning to end. It’s a really well-made film that I can recommend to everyone, not least because it has absolutely no violence and is all about community and people trying to work together to achieve the best outcome. Very nice. Very laudable.
But not very credible (despite trying to be), not very deep and, the bottom line, not very great. Unlike Interstellar and Gravity, The Martian will not make my top ten of the year. The other films weren’t very credible either, of course, but they provided such a wild intense ride that I didn’t care. The Martian, for all its wisdom and the opportunity to explore one person’s struggle for survival (as the only person on an entire planet), did not engage me at an emotional level at all. And that is why I can’t give The Martian more than ***+. But my mug is up and everyone should go see it on the big screen (in 2D).