MOVIE REVIEW: THE MARTIAN
Bek: Directed by Ridley Scott and based on the self-published novel by Andy Weir, this movie stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean.
The Martian is a movie that follows astro-botanist Mark Watney (Damon) as he’s stranded on Mars and his struggle to survive until rescue.
Char: Yeah, I saw a joke on FB before I saw it that we’ve spent an inordinate amount of money rescuing Matt Damon (you know, Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar), but this one takes those things to a whole new level of realism. I will admit right from the outset that this whole movie was vicarious living for me – I studied mechanical and space engineering, used to do experiments in microgravity, went to the Mars Direct speeches and would have loved to go on a Mars mission (I still hear my old supervisor laughing – way to encourage dreams, man).
Bek: There were a few things I really loved about this movie. The first was the amazing screenplay by Drew Goddard, who made the science accessible to its audience, without dumbing it down. There’s also a nice range of huge diversity: hey, all sorts of people can do smarts! Not to mention moments of comedy that were quite hilarious. Overall, I found myself emotionally engaged with the story.
Char: Yes, drama and levity, they got that quite right. It had some high highs in comedy, and still rocked the emotional connection. That last-ditch part near the end when Mark is reacting to what’s about to happen – to the possibilities and the risks of it – man, that was so intense and so, so true. And when I am moved by Matt Damon, the movie has done something very right.
Bek: What I really found great with The Martian was the superb way cause and effect was used. Good story-telling will usually follow a logical sequence, and a clear escalation of events. Drive a story forward through action that flows naturally, with ever increasing obstacles and you’ll achieve get narrative traction, leaving your reader wanting more. And don’t forget: give the reader just enough hope before dashing them.
Char: Absolutely, which is why we’re all so devastated when Mark’s pootatoes (see what I did there?) are all wrecked. But he was doing so weeellll!!! Aww, no!! (And it was even able to rough out my technical head saying, hey, wait a minute. There’s one atmosphere of pressure difference between inside and outside, tops. Is that enough to produce the type of failure we just saw there? Oh, and if the poo in the beginning still had bacteria, why did that event suddenly destroy it all? Oh, and … wait a minute, who cares! It’s a good story!)
Bek: This movie reminded me of some great advice on storytelling I heard once from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park. Their advice went along the lines that if between the beats of your story, you can write: “and then“, it implies passive storytelling and you’re not pushing the story forward. Instead, what you should have between beats are: “therefore,” or “but“, which advances your story through decision or conflict. Cause + effect = action. The Martian showed those elements superbly.
Char: That’s a great way of putting it. And here, of course, you have the perfect motivator. I’m also really interested that this movie seems really tuned to the zeitgeist – we’ve come through an era of doldrums of interest in space, but now we’re coming back. People might actually be interested. Some of that’s undoubtedly being driven by NASA PR, but who cares! We need a bigger challenge then ourselves, which is who we’ve been fighting for the last 20 years.
Bek: Speaking of which, I liked that Jeff Daniels wasn’t a villain, but a man in charge of the bigger picture. He wants Watney home as well. In fact, there’s no villain. The conflict is the environment.
Char: Yes, it’s not an antagonist story. It’s a reminder that conflicts don’t have to be in the form of a person – some of the best advice on storytelling I ever got was that conflict = uncertainty – as long as the outcome is kept in the balance for the hero, all is good for the story. And in this case, the bald hostility of space is quite enough!
Char: In other random points, I liked the combination of actors in this. I wondered how Kristin Wiig would fit, but she’s perfect, as is the actress from Zero Dark Thirty as the commander. It feels more stylised than Apollo 13, but they’ve hit the tone just right.
Char: My only beef, which bothered me the whole time, was that Mars gravity is only just over on third that of Earth’s, and I wasn’t convinced of the lower gravity in any of the Mars scenes – when things fell, it looked like it does here. Maybe that’s technically hard, though, and the scenes on the Hermes transitioning from zero g to the artificial g of the rotating floor were very cool.
Bek: Yes. Yes. I was totally thinking the same thing. Not really. I was waiting for the next shot of Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Bek’s Grade: 9 Dapper Chiwetel Ejiofor’s out of 10.
Char’s Grade: 10 freeze-dried poo packets out of 10.
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