Matt Damon is lost in space
Loves: Donald Glover
Likes: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels
Dislikes: Space epics
Hates: Golden Globe category fraud
Watney's story has an unfortunate start, as the botanist, who is part of a team studying Mars, gets lost in a sudden windstorm on the Red Planet, and, thought dead by his team, is left behind in a last-second escape. However, through cinematic coincidences, he manages to emerge bloodied but not beaten, however is most definitely stranded. Thus starts his tale of survival, enhanced by his log videos, as he must outsmart the unforgiving environment for years in the hopes of waiting until the next mission to Mars finds him. Meanwhile, on Earth, his activities are noticed, kicking off a massive rescue attempt at NASA. As tends to be the case in such situations, it becomes a race against time, as Watney attempts to fend off his fate in the face of obstacles, and the team at NASA struggles with a tight timeframe to figure out a way to save him.
Naturally, since he's on his own on Mars, the movie relies on Watney being worth spending time with. With a lead like Damon, it would be hard for director Ridley Scott to be in better position to succeed, as his charm is undeniable, and the character, created by novelist Andy Weir and adapted by The Cabin in the Woods screenwriter Drew Goddard, is entertaining to spend time with and root for, as a hero who uses intelligence to overcome problems and a strong sense of humor as a defense mechanism against the realities of a seemingly hopeless situation. If you had to spend the majority of a film watching one person, Damon's Watney is as good a choice as any.
The space adventure in The Martian and any time Watney "sciences the **** out of Mars" are quite enjoyable, and part of that is the beauty of the settings and the skill Scott uses in presenting them. He whips up tension with ease (aided by the concern Damon earns from the audience) and shoots the world of Mars in a way that's both fantastical and realistic, with an artistry that will be both familiar (ghosts of 2001: A Space Odyssey haunt most of the scenes aboard the crew's spaceship) and fresh, as the film translates today's ever-present personal surveillance to the future, making a man's time in Martian solitary a little less lonely. Between Scott's work, Damon's hero, and an overall impressive technical presentation, there's a lot to like about The Martian, but to those who nominated and awarded it on film's biggest stage: where were you when Duncan Jones joined forces with Sam Rockwell to give us the infinitely better and more fascinating Moon?
As good as this film looks, it sounds even better, with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that takes full advantage of those speakers around you, moving sound effects and source music throughout, supplementing the action on-screen through discreet placement and movement. It's not all bombast though, as the sound is engineered to create the right feeling for the setting, and its effective peaks and valleys guide the feel of the film. Dialogue is clear, sitting mainly in the center channel, which the score gets a boost from the surrounds to give it sufficient weight in the mix, ensuring good separation for all the aural elements. As one might expect from a film with rockets and so-forth, the low-end is a key player in the sound, and it does its job well, rumbling you when needed.
Continuing the theme of combining film elements that might have deserved their own extras, we get "Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes" (14:13), which looks at the film's actors and the space suits they wear. All of the main players sit down for interviews, where they talk about joining the cast and what it's like to work with Scott, while costume designer Janty Yates talks about the ideas behind the film's two suits, which, based on reactions from Damon and a stuntman, are not the easiest costumes to work in. If you want more about the film's design, the "Production Art Gallery" features 199 pieces of concept art, illustrations and plans for almost every visual element in the film, including variations on several designs, allowing for a peek at how the film might have looked if other decisions were made,
A 7:33 gag reel shows the cast goofing around and making flubs, as well as the aftermath of Glover's unplanned fall. It's an amusing reel, mainly thanks to Damon's charm.
The rest of the extras take an interesting angle, expanding on the film in different ways, starting with "Ares III: Farewell" (3:35). A faux livestream, with tweets (or the 2030s alternative) from viewers in the corner of the screen, lets the world meet the crew of the Ares III mission as they prepare for their launch, with Watney acting as host. This is apparently what the Golden Globes voters were watching, as there's a good sense of humor on display. The same can be said for "The Right Stuff" (3:20), supposed footage from the Ares archives. After emerging from 10 days of isolation training, the Ares crew meets with a psychiatrist for evaluation, and, with the exception of Chastain's uber-serious captain, it's a funny bit.
"Ares III: Refocused" is a 17:18 show that looks at the internal conflicts that took place during the rescue mission in the film. Daniels, Ejiofor and Bean appear, in character, to look back at what we've seen, with a bit more personal detail from the three men. There's a sense that it's a bit repetitive after watching the film, but as a piece of ephemera from the world in The Martian, featuring three solid actors, it's worth a look.
The film earns its scientific bonafides by bringing in Neil Degrasse Tyson, aged with generosity to fit into the timeframe of the film, for "Ares: Our Greatest Adventure" (3:39), a StarTalk presentation that previews the mission in that stylish, engaging way you expect from our best-known space ambassador.
The last two extras of note are a pair of ads from the Ares mission, one co-branded by Under Armour (so, basically an Under Armour commercial) featuring Watney training (1:03), while the other is an emotional promo (1:34), featuring humanity's response to Watney's plight. Both are very well-made, as good as the best real commercial campaign.
Also included is the film's theatrical trailer (2:55), which certainly doesn't seem like a preview for a comedy, as well as a code for an HD stream and download of the film.
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