Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My thoughts on THE MARTIAN

Hollywood movies take creative license. They all do. The question is whether the audience is willing to suspend belief. STEVE JOBS has taken a lot of heat for its stylized portrait of a real person. And yet, THE MARTIAN has gotten a free ride. I’ve seen THE MARTIAN and it’s excellent. No real spoiler alert here since you all basically know the story. Matt Damon is an astronaut who is stranded on Mars. He survives on his ingenuity. NASA attempts to rescue him.

Matt Damon is sensational. You know an actor has star power when you can watch him grow potatoes for two hours. (Imagine Keanu Reeves in the part and the movie loses $400 million.) Screenwriter Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s book is both exciting and surprisingly funny. And director Ridley Scott returns to familiar territory, once again directing a movie set on Mars. (THELMA & LOUISE and HANNIBAL being the others.)

But if you want to get picky

Yes, they say they took great care to ensure that the science was correct. And I’m sure some of it was. But again, if you wish to step back and really analyze it, you can find tiny holes in the plot and execution that the filmmakers obviously just glossed over in the name of “creative license.”

So just to show that every movie fudges with the truth, even boxoffice darlings, let me point out a few examples of why discerning moviegoers might have big problems with this film.

First of all, Mark (Damon’s character) got absolutely no help from the Martian people. You’re telling me that not one Martian would offer jumper cables or even a Mars bar? This alone almost ruined the movie for me.

They didn’t use Apple computers? Really?
There was not enough diversity among the astronaut crew members. This is the same problem I had with THE KING’S SPEECH and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Oh sure, there were African-American and Asian scientists, but they don’t count. What’s important is the crew. In this case, one Hispanic and one guy who didn’t have pretty hair. I’m not saying they HAD to have a Martian, but they left themselves wide open to criticism.

Sean Bean played a high official at NASA. He was once a Bond villain. Don’t they do security checks?

When watching in 3D the Russet Potatoes don’t jump out at you.

He never celebrated Christmas. If he can grow potatoes, why not a tree? Uh, this is not a summer release, people.

Oh?  He was alone on Mars?  Then who were these guys?

You mean to say there were all these supplies on board but not one volleyball?

And finally, later in the movie Damon is wearing glasses. Why wasn’t her wearing them earlier? I saw the film at a WGA screening where screenwriter Goddard did a Q&A afterwards. And one fellow Guild member actually asked him that question. Why wasn’t he wearing glasses earlier? Suddenly my other quibbles don’t seem so far fetched, do they?

I recommend you see THE MARTIAN despite its glaring flaws.

41 comments:

Pallas said...

Don't leave us in suspense! How did Goddard answer the question!?!

I hope he had a good answer. Hollywood holds screenwriters to a very high standards and failure to address that question could have serious career implications.

Mike Barer said...

I'm not a fan of science fic movies, but I loved The Martian.

Stoney said...

If we ever get to Mars and, after blowing off the dust, uncover something that looks like Florence, Italy; THEN I'll buy the "Hannibal" reference. OH WAIT, Remember what happened to Ray Liotta? Hand him off to Tim Burton and teach him to say "Dak Dak"!

Stoney said...

"The Martian" reminded me a little of "Silent Running"; one of the most underrated sci-fi films. Would love to see some renewed interest in that flick!

Jason said...

Martians are notoriously unhelpful. I think you're over-reaching on this one.

Graham Powell said...

My favorite part: near the end, when it's come down to the "live or die" moment, and all the stress and fear that Damon's bottled up for over a year comes out.

Peter said...

I loved The Martian. It's best movie set on Mars ever. Though you could argue that that's not too hard to achieve when previous movies include Mission to Mars and Red Planet.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow. I hope he took the question in his stride.

THE MARTIAN is an enjoyable movie, but I don't think Matt Damon has a comedy bone in his body. Great for dramas, crappy for comedy -- and all the comedy fell flat for me. I'd much rather have spent two hours with Sam Rockwell (see MOON).

And Ken, there's one more glaring fault you missed: Why the hell does America keep sending Matt Damon to these far off places? He invariably needs to be rescued a great expense. (See: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, INTERSTELLAR.) When will America learn??

Bill Avena said...

If the Muppet Show is back, are we going to get a reboot of Hoglein's "Pigs In Spaaaaace"?

Bob Leszczak said...

It was very entertaining and moved along quickly, and gave me great fodder to discuss on my daily radio show - a vast 70s disco soundtrack and "Happy Days" references. Since being an extra in a Damon film (seated directly behind him in a church scene)I've opted to see most of his films. The one thing that stretched credibility for me was that the crew of the ship, having spoken frequently to their kin from said ship, were never told that they'd left a living person (an unwelcome Matt?) behind on the red planet. It was heavily covered in the news and one of them would have known. Someone would have spilled the beans.

Barry G said...

I thought the scenes on Mars were more realistic than the scenes at NASA. It felt like the film maker's research consisted of watching Apollo 13 (including the direct lift of an astronaut calling a nerdy scientist a "Steely eyed missile man."). Although in Apollo 13, ground control didn't break out into wild cheers until they'd safely returned their astronauts. In The Martian, the controllers go nuts just because a rocket lifts off. Really? Weren't they expecting that to happen? Except for the one who notes the rocket has a slight shimmy... uh oh... If only the NASA director (who sounded just like Will McAvoy) hadn't rushed the lift off... Could have been about 20 minutes shorter, too.

Rock Golf said...

The reason the Martians didn't assist Matt Damon was that he kept playing Slim Whitman tunes.

David P said...

Peter: Total Recall was also set on Mars, so this film therefore falls to second place.


Rock Golf: Thank you for reminding me of the best Mars movie ever.

Eric J said...

Ken, your list of problems includes lots of important ones, but glossed over the science problems. Andy Weir gave a talk at Lawrence Livermore Labs and told about several that were in his book, and carried over to the movie. He's a pretty funny guy (but it wears thin in the way that most sarcastic nerds wear thin), and the source of a lot of the humor in the book and the movie. Here's the LLL talk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tfh6OUUYUw

Jeff C in DC said...

Stoney: Search for Mark Kermode's (UK) comments on Silent Running. My new favorite film critic, and one of my favorite films as well!

See if this link comes through:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUsV5LP30rU

iain said...

Did they at least give Ray Walston a cameo?

Wait, he's what??

Diane D. said...

OMG, so funny! I couldn't imagine where you were going with those absurd/hilarious criticisms. Knowing how you feel about petty criticisms (I remember your reaction to a script you posted on this blog that was picked apart mercilessly), I can't imagine how you managed to keep quiet (if you did).

It's ridiculous how much I love a long puzzling, build up like that, to a hilarious conclusion.

I agree with Johnny Walker regarding Matt Damon and comedy, however, but I enjoyed the movie.

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, although I did think (as I do with nearly all movies) that it could easily have been 20 to 25 minutes shorter. I'm totally with you, though ... who would've thought I'd be willing to watch Matt Damon grow potatoes? I think I was as mad as he was when the hatch exploded. The solitary element of it reminded me SO much of Cast Away ... another film I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did. I think it speaks volumes of the actors that they're able to carry the films with no acting partners 95 percent of the time.

John said...

Damon also would have had no problem launching his ship into space if only he had located the Illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator first.

Peter said...

David

I did consider mentioning Total Recall as a great Mars set movie but that is pure science fiction and I was thinking more about science based films set on Mars.

Rock Golf said...

Ah, like Santa Claus vs the Martians?
No?
How about John Carter?

Dmitrij Igorevich said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jcs said...

Damon is a decent actor and Tony Scott is a terrific director. Even smaller roles were cast well, I enjoyed the camera work and the film crew built excellent sets. Nevertheless, I could not get Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" out of my head while watching THE MARTIAN. At times the film felt like ARMAGEDDON II, especially during the extremely convoluted and unrealistic rescue. The structure of the film was too predictable. When Damon's character did so well as a Martian farmer, you knew something terrible was bound to happen. The whole flick was also one big ad for duct tape. There's a leak in your space suit or your Mars base? Better have a few extra rolls on hand because nothing seals in precious oxygen better than duct tape.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading the book right now. Has a lot of technical stuff, but is still a very good, amusing read. Will see the movie later and see how it compares to the book. Hope it's not another "Argo" fair.

MikeK.Pa. said...

I heard good things about THE MARTIAN, but last year I left the theater with a splitting headache after watching INTERSTELLAR, so I've sworn off space movies for a while.

Damon, like Harrison Ford was, is brilliant at picking projects that fit his limited acting range. His buddy, Ben Affleck, never picked up that skill, or the acting skill for that matter. He's a better director than an actor.

rchesson said...

Hi Ken I thought you would like to know that today is Elizabeth Montgomery Appreciation Day

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Loosehead said...

Robinson Crusoe on Mars? Oh wait, they already made that.

Andy Rose said...

It's not exactly a "plot hole," but I do actually find inconsistency about characters wearing glasses irritating. I don't worry about it too much in movies since the glasses are usually just there to telegraph !!Hey, This Character is Smart!! But in TV shows, there will inevitably be some point at which a bespectacled regular character is made out to be "blind" without glasses, yet will appear without glasses in another episode without any problem when it's more convenient to the storyline.

One of the biggest incongruities is in the original "Nutty Professor." It's established that the professor is very nearsighted (and we even get a POV view of his bad eyesight in the climax), yet he wears half-frame reading glasses that he hardly ever actually looks through. I know one should not go to "The Nutty Professor" for realism, but still. If you establish that a character is a legit paraplegic, you wouldn't have him rise out of his wheelchair for the sake of a dramatic scene and hope nobody will notice. (Well, maybe if you're "Glee"...)

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I thought the movie could have been an hour shorter, but then we would have missed all that thrilling Potatoe (Dan Quale for President) action!

Anonymous said...

@BarryG
With regards your observation about the "Steely Eyed Missile Man" it is a direct quote from the book(and Apollo13). I read the book a few weeks ago (loved it!) and recognised that dialogue as well, being a big fan of Apollo 13.

Last week I read some of the author's replies on an AMA on Reddit. He is indeed a huge fan of Apollo 13 as well. Nothing in the AMA addressed this, but possibly he put that in as a homage or similar to Apollo 13?

He did all the research via google, which in itself is amazing, and he admitted on the AMA quite openly that the winds on Mars wouldn't have done any damage even at 1000mph due to the atmosphere, or lack thereof. He just wanted nature to drop them in it, so to speak.

Looks like the movie kept that piece of dialogue. Haven't seen the movie yet. No movie theatre where I am until I get back home. Can't wait to see it.
cheers
Dave

Barry Traylor said...

I loved his film for so many reasons. As Neil deGrasse Tyson said they pretty much go the science right with only a few Hollywood short cuts. Did anyone else notice that when Damon dropped things on Mars they fell slower than they would on Earth? So much anti-science exists in America now that the success of this film surprises me and gives me hope.

Unkystan said...

Re: Andy Rose "If you establish that a character is a legit paraplegic, you wouldn't have him rise out of his wheelchair for the sake of a dramatic scene and hope nobody will notice" As awful as "Pearl Harbor" was, nothing was so hilariously ridiculous as watching FDR (Jon Voight) rise out of his wheelchair in anger! Michael Bay's cure for polio!

MikeN said...

Haven't we already seen Matt Damon as a scientist in space in Interstellar?

Unknown said...

Tooth brush. They didn't bring tooth brushes to Mars? With the other crew leaving, he would have had his pick. Then at the end when he is teaching, his teeth are shiny white again?

Anonymous said...

In the book, he has a tooth brush...

Mitchell Hundred said...

Spoiler upcoming, I guess (albeit a fairly unimportant one).

My only real issue was the romance they introduced towards the end. It really felt shoehorned in, and it clashed with the rest of the relationships in the story, which up to that point had been purely professional and friendly.

Brian said...

What was great about the movie to me was its backstory. How Andy Weir wrote it and gave it away on his website. Then he had to charge $0.99 because that was the minimum Kindle price on Amazon. Enough people read it and rated it so that it became popular enough to get a print book deal, then a movie deal. I have chatted with Andy on Skype and he's a funny guy. I sent him a text when I was at the theater waiting for The Martian to start and he responded! I quickly posted a screen shot of it to my FB wall expecting it to go viral, but all I got were two comments saying "tell me if its a good movie".

Ian said...

100% of their information came through NASA. And was screened first. Remember that the only way they got the information about the course change was to disguise the information about the alternate course as a broken JPEG. NASA was able to, and presumably did, tell the families to not mention anything about Watney, because they felt that it would hurt morale and hurt the chances of their families getting back safely, and, anyway, they simply wouldn't send along any communications which mentioned it.

Sure, the crew's families all knew about the Watney situation. But if they mentioned it, they'd just have the email sent back to them with a "take out the bit about Watney" message, before it was sent along.

Ian said...

The above was a response to Bob Leszczak's comment, by the way. I hadn't realized that Blogger doesn't do threading.

Free Online Stream said...
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dwibs93 said...

Funny post lol.

OK, in all seriousness, I really enjoyed The Martian.

I loved how, despite the awful situation that Damon's character finds himself in, as well as how worse the situation gets, he never gives up and strives for survival in any way he can, and also, in a nice aversion, does not instantly believe that NASA "abandoned" him out of spite, as some characters in films like this tend to do.

I also loved how NASA are portrayed as flawed, but not cartoonishly so, and show that most of the organisation really do want to get the astronaut back by any means that they can.