Movie Review for “The Martian”


I just came back from seeing the movie, “The Martian” starring Matt Damon. Here’s my take:

Did anyone reading this review see the 1969 movie “Marooned” staring Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, and Gene Hackman? It was based on the 1964 novel written by Martin Caiden. The movie was directed by John Sturges.

The short and simple of this ’69 film “Marooned” is as follows: A U.S. low-earth orbit Apollo-style spacecraft is stuck in near space and can’t return home. There’s a sufficient amount of NASA hand ringing, worried families and space engineers under pressure and time limits trying to figure out the crews’ return. They are rescued with the help of the Soviet Russians. That was the 1969 film.

Fast forward to Oct. 2, 2015 release date for “The Martian” written by Andy Weir. A U.S. astronaut is stuck on Mars and can’t return home.  There’s a sufficient amount of NASA hand ringing, worried families and space engineers under pressure and time limits trying to figure out the crews’ return. They are rescued with the help of the Communist Chinese. That is the 2015 film.

As for the story…do ya see what I am getting at?

There is no question that Ridley Scott provided superb and flawless direction for this film. The film edit was tight and right on the nose allowing the story to move quickly along, although 10-15 minutes should have been trimmed. The art and set design, perfect. The CGI, computer graphics for those not in the biz, was seamless. The soundtracks were perfectly balanced and non-obtrusive. The use of believable props, electronics and equipment seen throughout the movie was right on target as well.

What Ridley Scott did accomplish with this film is the masterful technique he uses in all of his films, like “Aliens.” It’s called SUSPENSION of DISBELIEF. In other words, he creates an atmosphere throughout the film where the audience actually believes everything they see on the screen is real or could be real…they suspend their disbelief that anything they do see on the screen is impossible.

 If the audience didn’t believe what they saw could happen or was real they would lose interest in what they were seeing as being too wild or impossible to believe. But with this constant golden ring filmmakers reach for they have to be careful especially at the end of a film to avoid the “God Comes to the Rescue” ending where some supernatural power or God steps in to save the situation or lead characters from being destroyed by their protagonists or some dangerous situation. It is a thin line in storytelling to avoid when something comes out of nowhere to “Save the Day” for our heroes.

 Okay Fred, so what’s the bad news? Well, forgive me if I sound snarky or unfair because I am the author of the “The SETI Trilogy” that I am presently turning into a nine-book series, but the Martian story is just small. The story is linear. The story fits the dramatic pattern of beginning, middle, and end but that’s it. It is obvious from the start that astronaut Mark Watney is going to be rescued. So, we know the ending. If he wasn’t going to be rescued then it would have been a down and unsatisfying ending and no reader, except a few sadists, really wants that.

What I am saying is that the story and dialogue, is very linear and straightforward. There are a few twists and turns but nothing really challenging. More snarkiness, sorry…but in my SETI Series of books there is more layer, depth and global impact as to the progress and ultimate end of the tale. My story can and is going to go through time, generations and startling revelations. With “The Martian” an astronaut is stranded, there is drama to rescue him, and the astronaut is rescued. Dead stop. Story end. Okay, gang let’s leave the theater and grab something to eat.

In sum, I would say this is a fantastic movie with near-perfect elements of the filmmaking craft and the best marketing campaign I have ever seen as staged by Fox. And God bless Andy Weir for the way this story and his book came into creation. He gave away the book for free, chapter by chapter. He then published on Kindle and sold a ton of books, and within one week got a book deal and a film deal. Congratulations, Andy, well done and you deserve the success. It is tough writing science fiction, I thoroughly understand and you did a great job.

“The Martian” is well-crafted filmmaking and it’s great entertainment. And one more thought, over time since I saw the film, it kinda grows on you. Because of that I have updated this review from a previous version, I think I really do like this film.

Fred Fichman

For more great science fiction, check out my SETI Trilogy. Click on cover.