Release Date(s)2015 (January 12, 2016)
Studio(s)Scott Free/Kinberg Genre (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, The Martian opens on the surface of the Red Planet in the midst of NASA’s near-future Ares III space mission. Six astronauts are busy exploring the terrain, gathering samples, and doing scientific research, when an unexpectedly strong dust storm overtakes their landing site. Forced to abort the mission, they’re struggling through worsening conditions to reach their MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) when one of them, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is struck by flying debris and falls out of contact. Believing him dead, the rest of the crew escapes into orbit and begins the journey back to Earth. But, unknown to them, Mark is still alive. And, with a great deal of luck, ingenuity, and scientific knowledge, he’s determined to stay that way until he can be rescued. When NASA discovers this, they rally their best minds together – as only NASA can and with the whole world behind them – determined to bring Mark home.
The original Weir novel is almost the perfect template for a Hollywood film. What it lacked in prose, it more than made up for in genuine and honestly rendered humor, heart, and a keen effort towards scientific accuracy. The genius of the novel is that Weir puts us inside Watney’s head, offering us a window on his running monologue of thoughts in situations good, bad, and absurd. The genius of Drew Goddard’s script, is that he has Watney recording many of those same thoughts on screen via a kind of GoPro-inspired video log for the team back at NASA. Not every beloved scene in the novel carries over to the screen (notably an incident in which Watney rolls his rover), but this is true of any such adaptation. And of course, no filmmaker is more uniquely capable and experienced in building epic and cinematic science fiction worlds than Ridley Scott. One almost can’t imagine a novel, and a script, more well suited to Scott’s talents than this. It’s almost fool-proof.
The film’s casting is spot-on. Matt Damon is exactly the right actor to play Watney. He’s believable as both an everyman in an extraordinary situation and a highly capable NASA scientist. The rest of the Ares III cast delivers too, including Jessica Chastain as the mission’s no-nonsense commander. Back on Earth, the unlikely ensemble of Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and others absolutely shines as space agency administrators, engineers, directors, and mission controllers fighting to save Watney’s life. Really, the only other way this project could have gone wrong would have been if all the little nuances of spaceflight – the accuracy to real NASA engineering concepts and scientific details – had been Hollywood-fudged. Fortunately, NASA consulted with the filmmakers wholeheartedly, so almost every aspect of the production – from the spacecraft, to the suits, gear, and even the surface of Mars itself – rings true, or at least true enough. (The lack of concern for radiation in space is an issue, as is the fact that dust storms could never actually get that strong on Mars, and that the Hermes is roomier than you’d ever see on a real spacecraft, but these are nitpicks.) And really, why wouldn’t NASA want to participate? The Martian is to the space agency what Top Gun was to the U.S. Navy. In the end, the result is this: Ridley Scott’s The Martian rightly takes its place alongside Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Philip Kauffman’s The Right Stuff, and Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (and to a lesser extent Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity) as one of the best and most realistic films about manned spaceflight ever made.
The film’s Blu-ray image is near-reference quality, with terrific detail and depth of field. Presented at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, Scott utilizes every inch of the widescreen frame to convey the grandness of the Martian landscape, and how small and awed Watney feels within it. Subtle textures of fabric, rock, and sand are all well rendered. The colors are rich and accurate, with cooler tones favored for spacecraft and habitat interiors, contrasted with a coppery, butterscotch-gold for scenes on the surface. Digital effects and live action are blended seamlessly, and the dynamic range of the images is good at all times. Audio-wise, the original English soundtrack is presented in a 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix that’s big, wide, incredibly dynamic, and highly immersive (note that Atmos is being saved for the Ultra HD Blu-ray version). There’s also English Descriptive Audio, along with French, Spanish, and Portuguese mixes, all of them in Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are also available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese.
In terms of extras, you’d be forgiven if you were expecting a loaded special edition from Fox. This disc is not it… which is odd, because of any Ridley Scott film, this one seems to most obviously deserve the deluxe “Lauzirika” treatment, if you will. What you do get is mostly quite good, there’s just not nearly enough of it. Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction (9:36) and Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes (14:13) are both fine – if far too short – behind-the-scenes production featurettes. The Gag Reel (7:33) is funny and exactly what you expect. Ares III: Refocused (17:18) is an “in-universe” retrospective news exposé that reveals more of the in-fighting that occurred at NASA during the rescue effort. (It’s a bit too cute for its own good). Ares III: Farewell (3:35), The Right Stuff (3:20), Ares: Our Greatest Adventure (3:39 – which features astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson), and Bring Him Home (1:34) are all fun “in-universe” clips, though Leave Your Mark (1:03) is essentially just an Under Armor commercial. You’ve probably already seen these on YouTube, as they were used to promote the film’s theatrical release. There’s an excellent Production Art Gallery (if you watch all the images, it’s about 17 minutes worth of auto-advancing material) that shows concept art for the film’s Hermes, Mars, and Earth settings. Finally, you get a single Theatrical Trailer (2:55) for the film, and a paper insert with a Digital Copy code. The two production documentaries, the Gag Reel, and the gallery are definitely the best of the lot.
Honestly, the most surprising thing here is the lack of a Ridley Scott audio commentary. There’s just no way that Ridley doesn’t have much to say about this film, so this could be a strong clue that there’s a better special edition of this film in the planning stages for release on Blu-ray later this year (beyond the Blu-ray 3D version available tomorrow, and the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version due on 3/1). Only time will tell.
The Martian is arguably Ridley Scott’s best work in a decade, since perhaps his director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not a perfect beat-for-beat adaptation of the Weir novel, but it is the perfect Ridley Scott cinematic version of it. From its script, to its cast, the production design, cinematography, and editing, there’s really not a false note here. The Martian is refreshingly straightforward, eschewing ridiculous plot twists, hidden conspiracies, and evil character agendas. Instead, we watch a group of smart, highly capable human beings embarking upon the grandest of adventures, using every bit of their abilities to achieve a noble goal. It’s a film about NASA, and humanity at large, achieving its very best… while remembering what’s truly important. And it’s thrilling.
- Bill Hunt
This review is dedicated to the memory of David Bowie. Rest in Peace, Starman.