Directed by Ridley Scott
The worst thing about writing these things is staring at the blank whiteness where the words are supposed to go. Waiting for the connections to form, waiting for inspiration to come from any of a thousand different places. The synapses all firing at once, ideas bombarding the frontal lobe where rational thought lives. False start after false start. If this was the days of paper the floor would be covered in about 6 inches of crumpled paper, whole forests would be brought down so I could tell you if I liked a movie or not. Trying to filter out the garbage, filter out the mediocre, trying to make everything shiny and chrome. I imagine other people who try to write face this blank whiteness with the same fear, the same trepidation, with the same hesitation. There's always a chance that this time there won't be any words. I've found that the more I try to force it, the less it will happen. And if I just start scribbling some nonsense, I'll start breathing regularly again and the panic will go back in it's box and the sweats will stop and my brain will stop freaking out and I'll stop wishing I had never agreed to do this thing.
Enough of me whining about writing about movies. Talk about your first world problems. People the world over are just trying to scrape by, just trying to survive one more day, escaping war and famine and madness. And I'm sitting here complaining about how hard it is to write about a friggin movie. Jesus on a cracker. Sometimes you just gotta put some stuff in perspective and realize just how lucky you are. I mean, I get to go see movies and then blabber on about them and some people occasionally read them. This is not something to complain about. Like, sure the blank whiteness is scary and intimidating and filling me with some kind of lame existential dread, but I'm not trying to smuggle my family across borders so we can live to see another day. I'm just filling in the blank whiteness, making it go away by putting one word after another after another. So, just put on Be My Baby by The Ronettes and work the problem.
It's not like I'm stuck on Mars with only a couple of months worth of food and water, trying to figure out how I'm going to survive for four years. And that's how I eventually get to where I want to be, putting down some words about the film of the week.
So, gather around everyone, we're gonna have a chat about the new Ridley Scott film, The Martian.
At its core, The Martian is about the ability of humans to solve any problem, even the most daunting ones, using rational thought. This is a film that will not apologize for celebrating our brains, for celebrating the way we can work through a problem by setting aside our emotions, by setting aside our superstitions. This is a film that works the problems. There is a limited amount of food, what do you do? You need to get from point A to point Z, but your means of transportation is only capable of getting you to point B, maybe C if you're lucky, what do you do? No-one knows you're alive, and the communication satellite broke off in, well, you, how do you communicate with the folks back home, let them know you're alive? How do you keep from dying, from exploding, from imploding, from going mad?
Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is the astronaut left behind on Mars, assumed dead by his crew. He narrates large chunks of the film, keeping a video log of what has happened, his plans, his fears. And if that was all the film was, Cast Away on Mars with Go Pros instead of a volleyball, it would've been enjoyable I'm sure. But it's so much more than that. We follow the NASA and JPL folks back on Earth who have to first comes to terms with their guilt over an astronaut being killed and then work the problem when they discover that he's alive. We also follow his crew on their long journey home, as survivor's guilt gives way to resolve to solve the problem of rescue.
The cast in this thing is all around amazing, every single performance is true. From Matt Damon to Jessica Chastain as the mission commander to Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA to Chiwetel Ejiofor to Sean Bean to Kate Mara to Michael Pena to Mackenzie Davis. The biggest surprises are probably the actors more associated with comedy, like Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover. Actors that are usually called in to play funny, show that they have more strengths than expected.
And the film looks jaw-droppingly good. But that's kind of expected with anything Ridley Scott directs. Look at any of his films, the hits and the misses, they all look amazing. The man can frame a shot. Even the misses from the last few years, okay, everything since American Gangster, look great. Like a friend recently said, you can turn on Prometheus, put it on mute and play some music and still enjoy the visuals. Just don't try to follow the story, your brain may short circuit. Ridley Scott can direct the hell out of a film.
And at 77, he has brought us something, something so good and unapologetically stirring and moving and beautiful and respectful of its audience that I think it'll join the pantheon of Great Ridley Scott Films. Sure, the man has some misses on his IMDB page - Prometheus, Exodus, Hannibal, The Counselor. But, when the man makes contact, the ball is out of the park, bouncing off of some poor bastard's car roof. Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster. The one thing such diverse films have in common? All directed by Ridley Scott. The man's a treasure. And at 77, an age when most artists would kick back and relax and bask in the adoration of his fans, Scott knocks another one clean out of the park. Some poor bastard's gonna find the ball sitting among the shattered remains of his windshield.
The most shocking thing about The Martian is that it is so damn funny. Funny is not a word often associated with a Ridley Scott film, but The Martian is, at times, laugh out loud funny. The humour is found in the most real and human of situations, like the mission commander's taste in music or Watney declaring himself the best botanist on the planet or some of the NASA and JPL folks reactions to the name of their rescue plan. I'm not doing it justice here, because I don't want to spoil anything, but trust me. This film is very funny.
So, is The Martian worth your time and your money? Yes, yes, yes and yes. The Martian is so damn good I want to buy it a Tidal Records hoody and take it for a nice autumn walk on the Hub Trail and talk science and joke with it. Go see it on a giant screen if you can. You can thank me later. And maybe you'll do what I did, walk straight from the theatre to the book store and buy a copy of the novel The Martian by Andy Weir.
And that's how you fill up the frightening white blankness with words, that's how you work the problem of writing about a movie. Just one word after another after another. Not one of the Great Problems troubling our world. Maybe I'll start working on those next.