My post last week was how in an apocalyptic crisis most of us would be useless. You know who wouldn't be useless? Mark Watney, aka Matt Damon's character in The Martian. I mean, he grows freaking potatoes on Mars. Potatoes on Mars! This is after he survives being left for dead and performs surgery on himself in a way reminiscent of Prometheus. At least no alien baby jumped out of him. The surgery and potatoes are only a couple of the clever things he does to survive for pretty much a whole Earth year on Mars. There's lots of other stuff, including pimping out his rover to fetch the old Pathfinder probe to use to contact NASA.
Most of those NASA guys would similarly be good in a crisis. They're basically like Scotty and other engineers on Star Trek. I'm not sure in real life if they could do all that stuff, but they did get Tom Hanks back from the moon in Apollo 13.
When I say this is Ridley Scott's best film since Gladiator, I'm not kidding, although I did really like Matchstick Men. Post-Gladiator he's mostly just done historical epics like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood, and Exodus Gods & Kings. He also did Prometheus as mentioned and the thing they have in common is they were all money losers. He was really in Wachowski & Shamaylan territory where you start wondering: How does this guy keep getting work? Unfortunately now he'll go back to making shitty Alien prequels and historical movies.
I think what really helped Scott this time around was getting rid of a couple of his frequent collaborators. I mean if he had cast his buddy Russell Crowe instead of Matt Damon it would have just been an interminable bore. Crowe's a good actor but likable he really isn't. Damon is able to make his character funny and likable, so you're rooting for him to survive. Not using Hans Zimmer for the music probably didn't make a huge difference, but it's good to help get the director out of his comfort zone, aka rut.
The obvious comparison to make is to Gravity, which similarly was a space disaster movie. The timeline for this is a lot longer as it is pretty much an Earth year (or slightly longer) instead of a single day. But in both cases the survivor has to use pluck and science in order survive--along with some help from the Chinese.
At almost 2 1/2 hours it gets a little long and yet there's really more I wish could have been done, like maybe show Watney's parents and/or any friends on Earth. Similarly we don't know that much about his comrades on the Mars mission. It's kind of like a war movie where you only get a basic character sketch for each one.
Still, it was a lot of fun and a definite must for lovers of somewhat factual science-fiction. Though as with Gravity, I don't see much sequel potential. It'd be as unbelievable as Home Alone 2.
One of those funny GIFs someone posted on my Facebook feed was about how in so many movies the government has to expend huge expense and resources to find Matt Damon: Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar, and now The Martian. Plus think of all the time, resources, and expense used to apprehend him in the Bourne movies and The Departed.
Anyway, I can definitely say I got my money's worth, but that's not really fair since I used a free pass--you'd know why if you remember my Ant-Man review. Speaking of, I told you in that review that Michael Pena could do better material--ie, this.
So there you go, four paws up from the Grumpy Bulldog.