Saturday, January 23, 2016

In short: The Martian (2015)

Well, at least it’s better than Gravity. But seriously, I basically have the same troubles with this film I had with Andy Weir’s book, namely that it’s such a typical example of that kind of absurdly optimistic SF that’s convinced every problem can be solved in a technical manner if one only applies enough elbow grease. And while I certainly prefer that to The Cold Equations style bullshit, this approach does ignore the fact that sometimes, you’re fucked even if you do not do anything wrong, that there’s situations you can’t escape from. One might even argue this sort of tale suggests if someone doesn’t survive a catastrophe, it’s their own fault because they weren’t plucky American enough. And people wonder why I’m sceptical about optimism as a concept. Though, when I compare this to the brilliant but also less elbow-greasy Interstellar, it’s not the optimism as such but The Martian’s inability to sell it, perhaps because of trouble number two.

For trouble number two is the incredible blandness of Matt Damon’s main character, a man whose emotional reaction to being possibly doomed to die on Mars is to shrug, quip, and go on to the business of applying elbow grease and science to grow some potatoes. As book and film portray him (though you could argue the book’s even worse), Damon’s Watney has no character traits, no psychology, and really nothing and nobody about Earth he seems to miss in a way that actually hurts, which makes it rather difficult to care about his survival – if the set-up and tone of the whole affair didn’t make it clear from minute one that he’s going to survive in any case, so there’s no reason to get excited about him from that perspective either.

If you can ignore that, The Martian’s not a bad huge SF disaster movie, with a cast ridiculously overqualified for the little the script gives them to work with, shiny special effects. Pretty much what you’d expect from a flick made by Ridley Scott in his by now nearly two decades old incarnation as a director who does little but add a glossy professional sheen to every project he’s involved in, his days of giving his films actual personality long gone. As Scott, his The Martian is big time Hollywood professionalism, for better or worse.

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