Finally. After weeks of enduring some of the crappiest films I’ve seen this year and a few mediocre entries, I’ve finally seen a film I can unequivocally say I thoroughly enjoyed. The film adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel is here and it’s here to impress.
For those who haven’t read the book, we find astronaut and botanist, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars after his crew and NASA thought he was dead during an emergency exit from the red planet. At first, he resigns himself to his fate and the likelihood of his death by neatly organizing his crew mates’ belongings. Until he says “fuck this” and resolves to survive by awaiting the next Mars mission to arrive on the planet in four years.
The “how” of his survival is really what grips you. After all, we’ve seen tons of films dealing with stranded characters coping with their predicament in normal wilderness, but never one on Mars and never quite so plausible. Excusing some scientific discoveries on the red planet regarding radiation, everything Watney does to survive is well within the realms of possibility. Being a botanist, he manages grow potatoes for the remainder of his stay on Mars, and it’s honestly kind of amazing how the simple act of growing a plant can feel like a powerful moment in a film.
As Watney deals with his own survival, NASA eventually discovers he’s alive and well. And this is the other half of the movie dealing with a parade of high caliber actors ranging from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Kristen Wiig, and a few others I can’t recall off the top of my head. All of them give fantastic performances as they each deal with Watney’s survival in different ways.
Daniels plays as the head of NASA and plays the role with as much safety as possible as he thinks of the future space program. He comes into conflict with Ejiofor’s and Bean’s characters who brainstorm ways to bring Watney back alive while also showing concern for the crew that left him.
Said crew is the Ares 3 led by Jessica Chastain as the Commander, Michael Peña as the pilot, Kate Mara and Sebastian as lovesick astronauts, and Askel Hennie as the German scientist. All of them are wracked with guilt over Watney’s situation despite his assurances to the contrary once they all figure how to communicate with each other. They really come into play during some fantastic space walk scenes that start to look like a less chaotic version of Gravity.
Speaking of which the special effects and camera work are simply gorgeous to look at once in space and on Mars, and even the NASA scenes come alive with smart camera angles that never remain static and boring for long. This has always been Ridley Scott’s strength as a director and here he’s crafted his best effort since 2007’s American Gangster.
Granted it FEELS as his best since he has the great source material from Andy Weir to work with, which I haven’t read myself but I hear is loaded with a lot of interesting science facts about surviving the red planet. And he is complimented by the fantastic script of the screenwriter, Drew Goddard. Goddard wrote Buffy back in the day and has graduated to writing the scripts for Cloverfield and Cabin in the Woods while finding time to show run the awesome Daredevil Netflix show. His script oozes comedy, which makes the entire experience feel fun rather than absolute despair that usually accompanies “survival” movies.
This is an important quality, as the film’s message is essentially to never give into hopelessness, but rather to sit down and think of a solution that makes sense to live another day. Many of the solutions are not easy, some even seem suicidal. But the characters soldier on to come together and brain storm a way out of a terrible situation.
It’s a powerful message, one that elevates it above one of my favorites, Gravity, for that reason alone. And yes, Interstellar is absolute shit to me by comparison to this movie (the score is better for Nolan’s film though).
I left the theater in a great mood, and I absolutely enjoyed the movie from beginning to end. This will likely make my top films of the year, so this gets a high…