Based on the book by writer Andy Weir, The Martian is the story of astronaut Mark Watney’s survival on the planet Mars after he is left stranded.In that respect, one might say it’s basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars with better science and no Friday. It’s also similar to Gravity, where Sandra Bullock’s character is stranded in outer space and has to find her way back to Earth. Or even Tom Hanks’ Castaway? Or… what was the name of that movie when I was a child? Lost in the Desert?
As you can tell, the premise is nothing new and there are numerous stories about the lost or stranded protagonist who needs to survive and to find his or her way home. Therefore, there was a sense of trepidation before watching The Martian – mainly because of that familiar storyline. But to the credit of director Ridley Scott, scriptwriter Drew Goddard and the cast, The Martian is executed brilliantly and is ultimately a very emotionally resonant, thought-provoking and entertaining film. And also rather surprisingly, very funny as well.
Speaking of the cast, apart from Damon’s usual reliable star turn, special mention must be made of the performances of Jeff Daniels (as Teddy Sanders, head of NASA), Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Vincent Kapoor, a NASA mission director), Jessica Chastain (as Melissa Lewis, Ares III commander) and Sean Bean (as Mitch Henderson, a NASA mission director).
The presence of Bean inspired probably the most bizarrely comical segment when a secret project is dubbed “Elrond” with references of The Lord of the Rings being thrown about! Unbelievable! If you don’t quite get this then you need to understand that Bean played Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Most everything worked in The Martian, which is not often the case in recent movies helmed by Scott but it does seem that the veteran director has gotten his mojo back – which bodes well for the Prometheus sequel.
But well before that, make sure you do not miss The Martian – a feel good scifi movie that affirms the ‘never-say-die’ ethos of the human spirit.
Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. Does this sad fact of life really need to be shoved down our throats by movie entertainment? Yes, as many times as possible so that hatred, bigotry and prejudice will be marked and branded as atrocities and crimes against humanity and not justified in the name of religion, economics or self-preservation.
Director Steve McQueen has, with two feature films viz Hunger and Shame, demonstrated a razor sharp ability for telling the unflinchingly unblemished truth about the unsavory aspects of life. Now with this adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography – Twelve Years a Slave – McQueen turns his keen eye on a dark chapter in American history – slavery.
The plot is straight-forward enough. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a free negro plying his trade as a carpenter and violinist in Saratoga, New York in the mid-1800s. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery at New Orleans. He remained a slave for 12 years before finally re-gaining his freedom. Throughout those 12 years, he had to confront and endure physical and mental abuse – not to mention the despair of losing his family and his own identity, and in the latter case, for the sake of survival.
The story itself may be simple but the making of the film is anything but. Everything – from the cinematography to the acting performances, from the art direction to the costume design – demonstrates an attention to detail. McQueen is renowned for the realism of his films and 12 Years a Slave is no different. The locations – four historic antebellum plantations – come alive on screen and one is able to experience what it was like to live in those times.
The excellent cast flesh out these historical characters with conviction. Apart from Ejiofor’s sympathetic portrayal of Northup, special mention must be made of Michael Fassbender’s sadistic Edwin Epps, Lupita Nyong’o’s tragic Patsey, Paul Dano’s petty John Tibeats and Benedict Cumberbatch’s benevolent William Ford.
Not an easy or comfortable ride the moment Northup discovers his horrible plight – McQueen takes aim at the American South and Christianity and lays bare the monstrous attitudes that gives rise to the worst kind of behavior – that one segment of mankind is superior to the rest – demonstrated in Epps’ response to Northup’s accusation of sin – “A man does what he wants to his property” – even as he lashes the slave girl Patsey to an inch of her life.
Definitely a serious contender for best film of the year. Do not miss it!