By James Hancock October 1st, 2015
Ridley Scott’s new movie The Martian is part of that rare breed of smart, crowd-pleasing entertainment that we see far too seldom. In spite of a 141 minute running time, The Martian flies by with a tense and exhilarating story that will likely become one of the breakout hits of the Fall. Based on the book The Martian by Andy Weir, Drew Goddard adapted the novel with a razor sharp screenplay filled with humor, heart and intelligence. The superb ensemble cast delivers amazing performances across the board, in particular Matt Damon who carries the movie with ease in spite of having nothing but GoPro cameras to interact with for the majority of the movie. Ridley Scott is back in fine form with some of the most stunning visuals of his career but more important than the technical achievements of the film, Ridley Scott has crafted a movie that is a celebration of intellect, ingenuity and the incredible achievements human beings are capable of when they work as a team. With this type of material, it would have been so easy to drift into maudlin melodrama, but the film shows incredible discipline and restraint without a single dishonest or unearned emotional beat in the entire movie. I’m still feeling the giddy rush of a great moviegoing experience, but I think it is safe to say that The Martian will likely be the best feel good movie of the year and hopefully an indication of the quality of movies we can expect from Ridley Scott in the future.
There is so much to like about The Martian it is difficult to know where to start. I’ll see anything that gives Jessica Chastain a chance to shine in that she is the closest I come to worshipping something like a god, but all schoolboy crushes aside, this movie has some scenes that I can only describe as bravura filmmaking. Watching Damon’s character identify problems and then systematically tackle them one at a time is such a pleasure to watch. The trailer is quite misleading in suggesting that the Jeff Daniels character is the heavy of the movie working against a possible rescue mission. No such silly subplot is to be found in the movie. As exciting as Damon’s struggle is to watch, there is a point about halfway through the movie where the film just starts to sing. To the music of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ we are treated to an incredible montage where we see all the characters, whether they are on Mars, Earth or in the vacuum of space, all working in conjunction with one another toward a common goal. I was literally swinging my chair back and forth to the rhythm of the song having an absolute blast. It is the kind of movie magic that will put a smile on the face of anyone with a pulse.
I grew up a rabid fan of Ridley Scott and count Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) among my favorite movies. I also thoroughly enjoy The Duellists (1977), Legend (1985), Black Rain (1989), Thelma & Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000), & Black Hawk Down (2001). When I was fresh out of college, I had the privilege of working on a Ridley Scott movie when I was hired as an assistant to producer Branko Lustig on Hannibal (2001). I occasionally got to interact with Ridley and I can lay claim to having once successfully bored him to sleep while driving him to the airport when I began rambling about my love of Blade Runner. But for some reason, I start drifting away from his movies in the 21st century. I saw American Gangster (2007), Prometheus (2012) & The Counselor (2013), all of which had things that I liked (and disliked), but some of his movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) had zero appeal for me and I skipped them entirely. I caught myself making the occasional snarky comment about the latter part of Ridley’s career and was not even particularly looking forward to seeing The Martian. Somebody should have given me a proper ass kicking for ever taking a condescending tone toward the man. While not the groundbreaking masterpiece that I find Blade Runner to be, The Martian has me genuinely excited to see whatever films Ridley Scott chooses to make in the years ahead. From what I heard him say in a podcast with critic Mark Kermode, Alien: Paradise Lost is what he has on deck to shoot this coming winter. Sign me up. Whatever he chooses to do, I’ll be there first in line to check it out. No matter whether I love or hate Ridley Scott’s movies in the future, I’ll never allow myself again to forget what he has accomplished during his remarkable career as a filmmaker.
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