Movie: The Martian
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Everyone probably knows the basic premise of The Martian by now. Basically, an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets stranded on Mars and everyone tries to get him back. I don’t say that cynically or tongue-in-cheek. The end result of this storyline is a fun and engaging adventure with a fantastic ensemble cast.

The production design worked perfectly. Space movies have been done many times and it’s easy to get stuck in a space movie rut when it comes to design. This one, however, felt natural and realistic. It felt like something that could be happening in this day and age, not in the future. The modern take on the design is accentuated by an artful, semi-futuristic attention to detail. The interior scenes were the most intriguing to me. There’s a consistency and flow to each location that keeps everything connected.

The adapted screenplay meshed well with the overall design to create that sense of authentic reality. The timeline for the movie spans over several years but the screenplay seamlessly transitions across time without kitschy tropes or over-used transitions. The progress of the story was well-paced without being too predictable. They avoid the awkwardness of Watney talking to himself by having him do “daily logs”. My one technical objection was to some over-the-shoulder POV camera angles (primarily near the beginning) that ruined some of the illusion of Watney being stranded alone on Mars.

The script was clever and concise and integrated the talents of the cast involved. There were a couple minor exceptions to that involving Watney and Jeff Daniel’s character (NASA administrator Sanders) where a few of their “one-liners” seemed forced. I can’t understand how that happened when much of the rest of the script smoothly incorporates humor without feeling contrived. I loved the variety of characters and the choice of actors. The threat with using that many well-known actors is for characters to feel unnecessary. Each character played an important role and each actor filled those roles well. They worked well together and each contributed to the story. My favorite moment is a scene where Sean Bean and some of the others discuss a plan called “Elrond”. If you don’t know why that’s funny, look up “Sean Bean” and “Lord of the Rings”.

Matt Damon‘s character, Mark Watney, is the centerpiece of this ensemble. After Watney is left on Mars, he must figure out how to survive and let Earth know that he’s still alive. Damon makes these terrible events amusing and makes talking to yourself seem normal. For about 80% of the movie, Damon is his typical charming self. The 20% where the walls break down and you see what’s really going on for Watney are what make his performance Oscar-worthy.

The sound editing was high class. Space movies always require a significant amount of sound creation and foleying. The sound editing was flawless, as far as I can recall. Everything felt natural and there weren’t any abrupt moments caused by sound.

The visual effects were perfect. Like I’ve said about everything else, the film felt real. The spaceship scenes were the most complex with gravity effects and the integration of the sets into outer space. Mars was convincing. It was all just good. Visual effects are somewhat difficult to examine nowadays. The only times they aren’t good are if there are some glaring problems (like The Revenant‘s fur rendering issues).

Predictions
Best Picture – Unlikely
Leading Actor – Unlikely
Adapted Screenplay – Possibly
Production Design – Possibly
Sound Editing – Possibly
Sound Mixing – It’ll get both sound categories or neither
Visual Effects – Unlikely

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