The Martian Review

The Martian confirmed what I'd been suspecting for a while now -- that knowing as little as possible about a film before you watch it is the best way to maximize your enjoyment of it. I went to see The Martian without reading the book or even seeing a trailer, and boy, was the payoff worth it!

Assumed dead by his crew and left stranded on Mars, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) proceeds to "science the shit out of" every obstacle that comes his way, eliciting many a laugh (and maybe even a tear) in the process. When the people on Earth realize that their man is still alive, they put aside differences of race, hierarchy and geographical separation, and unite to bring him back home.

As other reviewers have already observed, the Martian is cinematically a wholesome treat -- Mars looks magnificent and imposing, the acting is top-notch and the 3D is unobtrusive. The movie is further likeable as it cleverly avoids both excessive science-talk and the pitfalls of exposition, instead choosing to spruce up its awe-inspiring visuals with smart, peppy dialogue. The disco-soundtrack is far from gimmicky and prevents the film from ever becoming gloomy.

At its crux, The Martian is an unabashedly hopeful film about
  • the obstacles that a tenacious man can overcome as an individual, when he's left to his own resources, and
  • everything that humans can achieve as a race, when they put aside petty differences and come together as one.
A film like this only succeeds if everything on-screen synergizes to make the viewer a willing, vicarious participant in the experience. The Martian handles this perfectly. Right from the beginning, we care about Watney and the other astronauts because they're real people. They talk like us, form bonds like us and have fears like us, and each time, despite those fears, they all choose to do the right thing. So when later in the film (in what is perhaps the film's only shock), the camera zooms in to show you a shot of an emaciated Watney weakened by a lack of nutrition and water, the pain that you feel is both real and natural. This jolt however is transient as Watney, never one to let people feel sorry for him, quickly makes you smile again with his determined optimism.

The jovial mood that The Martian maintains throughout is paramount to its success as it helps viewers suspend their disbelief for the climactic scene in which Watney propels himself to safety Iron-Man style; a film that took itself too seriously could never have managed this.

All in all, The Martian is an ingenuous endeavor from start to end, not once trying to outsmart or hoodwink its audience. Unintuitively, its lack of suspense is therefore its biggest plus point as when everyone on-screen is a good person, all the audience is hoping for is that everything goes according to plan.

Suitable for all age groups (as long as you can stomach one scene where Watney stitches himself up*), the movie comes highly recommended and should be seen at a theater nearby as soon as possible.

*one of the other reviews mentions an instance of partial male nudity; pretty sure this scene was edited out in India. You never hear Mark say the F-word out aloud either. So by all means, take your kids to watch the film.
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