I love science fiction, tales of survival, tasteful CGI, and I'm the kind of guy who appreciates humor in the most dire of circumstances...so I should have completely fallen for Ridley Scott's The Martian, right? Well, I couldn't. Adapted from Andy Weir's popular debut novel, this award-winning blockbuster represented another comeback for the aging but prolific director most famous for Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, who stuck with his sci-fi roots after the flawed but fascinating Prometheus and is currently helming another Alien film in the upcoming Covenant (fingers crossed).
Once again, Scott serves up another visual stunner about astronauts in peril: this time around, it's Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a skilled botanist who's left for dead on Mars after his Ares III crewmates, captained by geologist Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), flee a catastrophic dust storm. He's not dead, of course...but he's badly injured, with little to no hope that (a) NASA will discover he's alive or (b) they'll spend billions of dollars to rescue him. Either way, it's gonna be a four-year wait at the earliest, and his surface-level base of operations was only designed to sustain the six-person crew for a five-week expedition. Watney's outlook is about as rosy as Tom Hanks' in both Cast Away and Apollo 13, but that doesn't stop him from using every possible resource to stay alive as long as possible.
The Martian divides its time up all-too-evenly between Watney's life on Mars and the failed mission's fallout back on Earth, as its uneven pace first goes off track when hints of his survival are discovered by NASA satellite planner Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) and mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor). NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) decides to withhold this information from the Ares III crew, despite repeated arguments from mission director Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean)...so while Watney improvises with house-made fertilizer and engineered water to grow his own crops, NASA is busy deciding between a a PR nightmare or a budget-crushing rescue operation.
Not surprisingly, Watney's creative survival methods and smirking video diary logs prove to be much more engaging than NASA technicians speaking in ultra-modern offices. Yet The Martian continuously cuts away from the struggle on Mars---which includes a disastrous airlock breach, the clever use of long-abandoned equipment, and a dangerous trip to the possible rescue site---for "connect-the-dots" plot development and no shortage of extraneous supporting characters, including NASA's jokey media relations director (Kristen Wiig) and a laughably convenient super-genius who devises the initial rescue plan (Donald Glover). They represent only a small percentage of The Martian's reliance on condescending exposition and occasionally tone-deaf humor, made worse by constant on-screen identification of key characters and events, that rob almost every bit of suspense and mystery from an otherwise exciting adventure.
The film's home stretch rights the ship somewhat, once the Ares III aims for Mars after a late-period montage featuring David Bowie's "Starman". The Martian finally eases up on the jokes and gets down to business, which results in a decent amount of suspense built almost effortlessly. Yet even in its final moments, a few wrong notes are hit: none are worse than a cornball coda that plays during the initial credits, serving up a needless "Where are they now?" update to almost every character...whether or not they actually had enough screen time to make an impression.
Perhaps I'm being too hard on a film that, in many respects, follows the book closely (according to the author himself, during the audio commentary)...not to mention that Weir and members of the crew consulted with NASA extensively to nail down details that may only be recognized by a select few. Elsewhere, there's still plenty to like (or at least appreciate) about The Martian: Damon's performance is solid and a few others aren't far behind, while the production design and effects display the usual polish and professionalism of a big-budget project headed by an experienced director. Both the scope of this inter-planetary adventure and the science behind almost every detail at least points it in the right direction, even though it misses the mark mid-flight. Bottom line: The Martian can't help but remind me of better movies from years and even decades ago---Interstellar, Gravity, Moon, Cast Away, and yes, Apollo 13, just to name a few---and I'll likely return to those films before (and more often than) this one.
Either way, the main selling point of Fox's new Blu-ray package is an optional Extended Edition (this is, after all, a Ridley Scott film), which promises 10 minutes of "action-packed" scenes that feature exactly zero action. Instead, we get a handful of minor scene extensions and character moments; the lone exception is one short new sequence in which Watney attempts to finish the work started by astronauts on a previous mission. There's also some discussion about bureaucratic felching, if that floats your boat. This new material doesn't necessarily make or break the movie as a whole, it just gives you more of what's already there...so whether or not you're up for 10 more minutes of The Martian, at least you get both cuts here. Otherwise, there's an extra disc packed with plenty of new and exclusive bonus features, which were even entertaining and informative to someone left a little cold by the film.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Also available in separate Blu-ray 3D and UHD 4K versions, The Martian is about as perfect a visual presentation as I've seen to date; not surprising, given the film's big-budget effects and state-of-the-art digital pedigree. This 2.39:1, 1080p transfer maintains a smooth and slick appearance from start to finish with strong image detail, robust black levels, and an almost seamless blend of live action and CGI elements. The only limitations are source-related, such as the Skype footage or dozens of GoPro cameras used to record sol-to-sol events in Watney's habitat. No apparent digital issues could be spotted along the way, including compression artifacts, banding, crush or edge enhancement, resulting in a pitch-perfect viewing experience overall. I doubt you'll find a better-looking version of this film on Blu-ray in the future, so die-hard fans can be assured that The Martian has once again been treated with care.
NOTE: The promotional images featured on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent the title under review.
Not surprisingly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (also available in Dolby Digital 5.1 English, as well as Spanish or French dubs) is a total knockout with plenty of surround activity, tightly-controlled bursts of low end, a handful of clever tricks, and an occasionally wide presence that really helps to sell the film's expansive scope. It's a very punchy track but ultimately front-loaded during the many dialogue scenes (or monologues, especially in Watney's case); in short, everything sounds crisp and well-placed within each distinct environment. Optional English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles have been included during the main feature and all applicable extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple but stylish interface is clean and easy to navigate, with minimal pre-menu distractions and a handy "Resume" function for trouble-free playback. This two-disc set arrives in a dual-hubbed eco-friendly keepase; also included is a Digital Copy redemption code (for the extended version) and a handsome matte-finish slipcover.
Not surprisingly for a Ridley Scott film, there's a generous amount of extras here and most of them were produced by Charles de Lauzirika. It's also worth noting that some are carried over from the previous Blu-ray edition.
But first, the new material: leading things off is a feature-length Audio Commentary with director Ridley Scott, author Andy Weir, and screenwriter Drew Goddard; Weir and Goddard are recorded together and have a good casual chemistry, while Scott's comments (from a separate session) are spliced in on many occasions. It's obviously a track full of depth and insight: some information is repeated in later extras, but the usual bases (source material, casting, development, shooting challenges, special effects, editing, post-production, etc.) are covered in modest detail here. Interestingly enough, this was obviously intended for the theatrical cut; it's playable during both versions, but the short new scenes are left completely blank. A bit sneaky that this was left off the previous release, right?
On a related note is Disc 2's centerpiece, "The Long Way Home: Making The Martian" (79 minutes), a multi-part documentary comprised of six featurettes; two were featured on the previous Blu-ray ("Writing & Direction" and "Cast & Costumes"), but four are new. It's similar to the audio commentary in overall scope and detail, although obviously much more visually stimulating and in a more easy-to-follow chronological order. Aside from the commentary participants, we also hear from executive producer Mark Huffam, production designer Arthur Max, astronaut adviser Rudi Schmidt, NASA Planetary Science Division director James Green, FX technician Glenn Marsh, costume designer Janty Yates, VFX shoot supervisor Matt Sloan, production manager James Grant, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, stunt coordinator Rob Inch, visual effects producer Barrie Hemsley, digital supervisor James D. Fleming, editor Pietro Scalia, associate producer Teresa Kelly, cast members Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Sean Bean...and at least a dozen others.
Three Deleted Scenes are also here (4 minutes total): these are minor character moments but, in all honesty, may as well have been included in the extended edition. The first is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it addition to a Mars scene in which Watney calculates travel distances; the second makes the secret relationship between Johanssen and Dr. Beck more obvious; and the final is an alternate voice-over for Watney during his first real day outdoors back on Earth.
The final new supplement is a three-part "Investigating Mars" section that focuses on the real-world science involved and NASA's future plans to explore the red planet. The first segment, "Dare Mighty Things: NASA's Journey to Mars" (15 minutes), lays the groundwork with comments from James Green, systems engineer Mallory Lefland, JPL director Charles Elachi, chief scientist Ellen Stofan, administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr., and flight system engineer Bobak Ferdowski. This leads into the much bulkier "Journey to Mars 101" (124 minutes total), a series of panel discussions / Q&As hosted by Andrew Weir, Bill freakin' Nye, and science educator Adam Savage; these include lengthy discussions with a handful of NASA astronauts, technicians, scientists, educators, and members of the filmmaking team. Finally, the brief coda "Ridley Scott Discusses NASA's Journey to Mars" (2 minutes) closes out this section.
Otherwise, pretty much everything from the previous Blu-ray has survived the transition as well, including a mildly amusing Gag Reel (8 minutes), a handful of long-form Ares Mission Videos used for promotion (14 minutes total), a detailed and interesting Production Art Gallery, as well as four different Trailers for the main feature. All applicable bonus features are presented in 1080p and also include optional subtitles in the languages listed above. I can't say that they changed my opinion of the film itself (some are very self-congratulatory, to an almost eye-rolling degree), but they're very thorough from a production standpoint and the science-based extras are appreciated.
The Martian was built from solid source material, but Ridley Scott's adaptation routinely shoots itself in the foot with endless exposition, convenient "connect-the-dots" plot advancement, and a few bits of winking humor that undercut most of the tension. It's visually stunning with a great underlying message and plenty of crowd-pleasing elements, sure...but its overall flow and momentum feel way off at times. This extended edition doesn't improve the film, promising 10 minutes of "action-packed" scenes that are little more than brief extensions and minor character moments. Luckily, Fox's two-disc Blu-ray package---their fourth of five home video editions this year, counting the same-day 4K Extended Edition release---serves up a flawless A/V presentation and plenty of informative extras. It's not one I'll return to very often (at least in the near future), though I realize I'm in the minority here and die-hard fans will likely enjoy everything this disc has to offer. Recommended for them, but newcomers might want to rent it first.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.