Thursday, February 04, 2016

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF RIDLEY SCOTT'S THE MARTIAN


I'm quite sorry to have to say that “The Martian” was a great disappointment.

I am a long-time fan of director Ridley Scott, both of his science fiction films, “Alien” being one of best ever made, as well as some of his other films, such as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Thelma and Louise.”

I looked forward to the release of this film.

The first segment of adjusting to life on Mars is pretty good. Matt Damon is well cast as an astronaut type, and his behavior will remind viewers very much of the old MacGyver television show with a number of ingenious survival tricks and jerry-rigged apparatus.

I like Damon, but his role and performance are not demanding enough to warrant any award. I do very much like the little touches of humor scattered in this segment. Some viewers seem to have objected, but I think the humor was a good choice.

Then the film begins to fall apart. Scenes back at NASA sometimes are just plain tedious with orders being grunted and scads of people running about and grimacing. The casting for the Director of NASA is poor, entirely unsuitable. The dialogue is all second-rate, at best, yet writing has been nominated for an award.

The staged whole world’s interest, eventually, in one man stuck on Mars quickly tires too. It reminds me of some of the cheaper sci-fi films of the 1950s with news reel crowd scenes spliced in. No, these aren’t news reels, they’re carefully constructed new footage, but what a tedious waste of time they are. It simply fails to capture us in the drama which it claims is going on.

Good God, and then officials in China take an interest and offer a now-secret rocket system of their own to help. This is absolutely unbelievable. Great powers do not behave this way, motivated by sentimentality – certainly the United States never would.

I won’t go into details, but the actual escape from Mars is close to ridiculous and highly unsatisfying. Yes, it is all superficially plausible, but it is not truly believable. There is a difference.

Since the tedious portion of the film is at least half its length, I just cannot recommend it, and not by any stretch of the imagination is it a "best film."

By the way, there is a pièce de résistance bit of droning boredom tacked-on at the end. Damon, now famous, goes to speak to a group of aspiring students. The scene is literally silly and reminds me of a sermonette on self-reliance, which, of course, as any reasonable person knows is not something you can teach. You either have “the right stuff” or you don’t, and only real-life challenge will prove it one way or another.

This film definitely does not have “the right stuff.”

I believe Ridley Scott is now 78 years old.  Quite possibly, he has passed his productive years?

Maybe the award nominations reflect this fact. After all, they gave an Oscar to Elizabeth Taylor for one of worst performances in another, almost unwatchably boring film, "Butterfield 8," years ago because she was very sick at the time and of course was a big money-earner for the studios.

Some smaller points.

First, the escape ship, from Mars’ orbit, seems to me impossibly large and complex, given the huge engineering efforts always put in to minimize such things by NASA.

Second, in the early scene of the crew leaving Mars in their lander and leaving their comrade behind, the reason is a massive sand storm. Surely, planners would anticipate such storms. We know right now that you couldn’t go and stay any time there without adequate preparations.

  

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