Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Martian Review

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Okay, no, this isn't Star Trek, but I was planning on opening this review with some sort of statement on space and thus I decided why not use the best space monologue ever written? I could've used the Next Generation updated version in the great voice of Patrick Stewart, but I decided to go with the original monologue. Anywho, space is a place that I've always loved going via TV show and film. It just plain out fascinates me. Thus I've been really happy these last few years at the fact that big budget space movies have become a tradition. We started two years ago with Gravity as we got trapped in space with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. That ended up being my favorite movie of the year. Last year, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar was my most anticipated movie of the year. I had no reason to believe that a Christopher Nolan space drama would be anything less than completely epic. Turns out it was my most disappointing movie of the year as a piece of crap ending ruined an epic beginning. But hey, I was still ready to put that experience behind me and look forward to the big space movie this year in The Martian. I didn't quite know what to expect or how this one would be different, but people loving the book it was based off of and critics praising the movie in early screenings made me super excited going in. It was a very busy weekend for me, so I couldn't get it out when I wanted to, but I am happy to report to you that in terms of my personal enjoyment, this is more on the level of Gravity than Interstellar.

The common comparison for this movie is that it is a combination of Cast Away and Apollo 13. I walked out of the theater thinking that it was like Cast Away and Gravity. But the Apollo 13 comparisons are definitely warranted as well. Perhaps we can say that it is Cast Away plus Apollo 13 plus Gravity? Whatever the combination, I'm here to tell you that I think this is a better movie than all three of those, which is a huge statement from me because I really like all of those movies. Like I said, Gravity was my favorite movie from 2013. If you haven't seen The Martian yet, you may be wondering what sets it apart from the rest of the space or survival movies. Because I'm not going to lie, this looks like a very predictable movie going in. There's a lot of survival movies nowadays and there's only so much you can do with one of these movies and call yourself unique. I don't want to say too much about the plot, but Matt Damon is part of quite the team of astronauts on Mars when a huge storm hits, threatening the survival of the whole crew. Matt Damon gets hit with a piece of shrapnel and is assumed dead, so the rest of the team makes the tough decision to get out of there so the rest of them don't die as well. Turns out this was a huge mistake because Matt Damon is alive and now they've left him all alone on Mars.

Pretty run of the mill, right? Not quite. I'm not going to spoil this movie, but there are definitely a few things that really set this movie apart and I want to dive into those. But first I feel the need to talk about the visuals in this movie. Even if the movie itself was run of the mill and super predictable, this movie would still be a very enjoyable movie because of the visual effects. This is definitely where director Ridley Scott excels. Even in his more sub-par movies like last year's Exodus: Gods and Kings, you can't argue with the fact that his movies are consistently beautiful. Exodus: Gods and Kings had it's issues with story, but was absolutely gorgeous. The scene where Moses parts the red sea and the children of Israel cross? Wow! Absolutely incredible. Same thing here. Like I said, I love space. Seeing space shot so beautifully is always a treat for me. Whether it's the crew in space overlooking Earth or Mars or whether it's Matt Damon on Mars, this is amazing. These may be the best Mars visuals ever. I felt like the movie was actually shot on Mars. I'm convinced that they got their whole crew to fly out there with Matt Damon. Then when we got the shots of Mars from right outside its atmosphere, holy fetching cow! Those were jaw-droppingly gorgeous. This movie was worth it just for that and thus I'd definitely say that this is a must-see in theaters.

But as I said, this movie is more than just a visual treat. There's some themes in this movie that are so strong and will stay with me for a very long time. The first of these is some real world application of subjects like science and math. Oftentimes high school students find themselves in school, studying subjects that they feel are completely irrelevant for their life and future. The common questions is how will I use this in my life? This movie teaches how you can use these subjects in everyday life. No, I don't anticipate many people in their life will be trapped on Mars, but Matt Damon's approach to things teaches very good problem-solving principles. The whole movie is him moving forward one step at a time. He doesn't start out by trying to figure out how he is going to escape from Mars. He starts small. I'll give an example from the trailer. Food. He realizes that his first problem he needs to solve is that he needs to figure out a way to grow food on a planet where food doesn't grow. So he uses his knowledge of math and science to plan out a way to solve this. Like I said, we're not going to be trapped on Mars in our lifetime, but we will have problems of our own that we will need to solve and we can use these principles that Matt Damon uses with problem-solving to better our lives. If we get as much education as we can. Learn math. Learn science. Learn these other subjects. We will be much better off in our lives in whatever our situation is and we definitely can use these.

The other great principle that this movie teaches is the importance of having a good sense of humor. Most survival movies are quite depressing. The person is all alone on an island or in the middle of the ocean and they understandably go through a lot of emotional, mental, and physical problems. Some of them become psychological as the person trying to survive is losing his or her mind. Thus most survivor movies become dark, gloomy, and depressing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's very realistic, in fact. However, The Martian is an outright hilarious movie. I heard this going in based on plenty of reviews. But I was still wondering how they were going to pull this off because there are very few signs of comedy in the trailers and this seems like the type of movie that wouldn't be funny. But Matt Damon is cracking joke after joke after joke. And they all land perfectly. I was loving it. Then I thought about it afterwards and realized that this was perfect. It is, shall I say, scientifically proven that laughter is good for your physical health. You can definitely tell that Matt Damon is struggling emotionally. He hates being there. There are many times where you feel that he is about to break. But he keeps a positive outlook. He continues to be humorous in his approach. That helps keep him alive.

This is what sets this movie apart from other survival movies. Like I keep saying, we aren't going to be in a situation in our lives where we will be trapped on Mars. But just like with the problem-solving aspect of this movie, having a positive outlook in life is a principle that is definitely important for people to learn. Life sucks. Hard times will come. You can either mope and cry about it, or you can have a positive outlook and have a good sense of humor. Obviously there is a time and a place for everything. There are times in life where you probably shouldn't tell a joke. But a smile is contagious. A laugh is contagious. Both of these will make most situations better. A happy person is a person that will live longer. And if not, at least you will live an enjoyable, worthwhile life. A wise man once said that there is a space between action and reaction. You can choose to be happy whatever your situation. Another wise man once said to come what may and love it. Yes, this is easier said than done, but if these principles can be mastered, your life will be a lot better. And when you see someone who has mastered this, it is very influential and makes you want to do better. Matt Damon's character in the movie, while not perfect, masters this principle and thus The Martian is an extremely inspiring movie because of it.

Yes, there are other aspects of this movie that also make this incredible. I could dive into all of them, but alas there is no time. Yes, the cast is great. Yes, they all do a great job. In fact, this movie is absolutely loaded. I could spend three or four paragraphs talking about the whole cast and how well they all did, but I'm not going to. Needless to say, Matt Damon gives on Oscar-worthy performance. This is one of the best performances of his career, which is saying something because the man is one of my favorite actors. Also, this movie feels real. Is all the science and space stuff perfectly accurate? I don't know and quite frankly I don't care. But this movie felt like it was telling the true story of a situation that actually happened. I loved that sensation. It made the possibility of man going to Mars exciting. All of this combined with beautiful visuals, amazing story (which does get really tense in the second half), and very strong themes that teach very important life lessons make this my favorite movie of the year so far. The only issue I had is that I wanted to see this movie in IMAX and that wasn't available. But the 3D is still pretty good. Not Gravity-level good. I wouldn't say this is a must-see in 3D, but if you do you won't be disappointed. That said, if that's the only issue I had with the movie, that's pretty darn good. My grade, of course, is a 10/10. This is a future classic and one of Ridley Scott's best.

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