The Martian – A Very Unpopular Opinion

There are few things in life I love more than a good sci-fi. Especially realistic sci-fi. Films such as Primer, Moon, Gravity, Her and the more recent Ex Machina top my favorites list. This is why when I heard the recent Oscar buzz and saw the overwhelming positive (93% Tomatometer as of today) reviews, I thought I was in for a treat. Yes, I said thought. Now don’t get me wrong, The Martian is entertaining enough. However, the reviews and the overall buzz just don’t add up to me. When I see an approval rating in the 90’s I assume I am going to see an incredible film that will blow my socks off. Which makes this movie all the more disappointing. The science in the film is neat – really it is a pretty simple premise -Mark Whatney (Matt Damon) must “MacGyver” his way around the lonely red planet in order to survive until help reaches him, after being mistakenly left behind. It really felt like one thought experiment after another, and that was fun and enjoyable. In addition, the cinematography and effects were dazzling, leaving me hankering for a repeat read of the The Martian Chronicles in the near future. The acting was well done too. However, the characters lacked depth. I kept waiting for the writers to reveal Whatney’s background story, about his family back home, anything to be able to connect with him. His chirpy one  liners throughout exacerbated this problem – he rarely looks as stressed out and defeated as one would be while going through such a harrowing experience. He just whistles along, happily cracking jokes while everyone freaks out around him. Despite being the main character, he literally felt like he was a “good idea” delivery system – merely there to show us the cool ways one could survive on a foreign planet. To make things worse, back home on Earth NASA could not be more bland: the rule loving , unemotional director, the PR specialist who only cares about good press, the emotional, kind scientists, even a on-the-spectrum brilliant scientist/student who comes up with the winning solution towards the end. They are all cardboard cutouts – nothing new here. There is a part in the film where Whatney comes across abandoned equipment on the red planet. I actually held my breath, excitedly thinking there are aliens, or this was left behind by a previous astronaut! But no! No twists, no turns, nothing unexpected. Intersteller did not receive as good reviews, but I enjoyed it much more thoroughly. Why? It kept me guessing and I am still thinking about it. A story is empty without the people behind it – and forgettable at best. Ridley Scott knows this. Remember Ripley in Alien?  Alien would not have been half as good and memorable without that amazing character.  The flat characters and poorly written dialogue in The Martian lends me to recommend this film – but only as a rental.

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