Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Martian

Year 8, Day 106 - 4/15/16 - Movie #2,306

BEFORE:  I had more dental work performed today, got my second crown and my first filling, plus had the first temporary crown removed and replaced with a permanent one.  And the whole time I'm sitting in the chair, trying to ignore the drilling being done on my teeth, I'm thinking, "just an hour or so of this, and then I can go home and watch "The Martian".  You know, a film about a person who's got it worse off than me. 

This was a major goal of mine, to get to "The Martian".  I really should have watched it after "Interstellar", because they share so many things in common (more on that later) but I wasn't in the same "Go out to the movies on Monday nights" mode as I am these days.  I had my whole McConnaughey chain worked out, and a way to (eventually) connect that to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", and when you have a path like that, adding a film like this could have been a detour, and I might not have been able to finish last year the way I wanted to.  (I certainly didn't want to reorganize my 2015 chain for the tenth time - nine, sure, but ten times is crazy....)  

But then the Oscars came around, and reminded me about this film again, so I made it a goal and a priority.  Bought the actual physical DVD and everything, then I just needed to figure out a way to link to it.  Mission accomplished, now the next goal is to link to a Passover and a Mother's Day film.  Ha ha, I've already got that worked out, so the next goal after that, to find a new goal!  How about that?

Chiwitel Ejiofor carries over from "Serenity", which really helped me out - for the longest time I had no way to link from that film, so it languished at the bottom of my list until I found the connections.  This always gives me hope that the films currently at the bottom of my list can also find their places in the vast chain, before I'm done.  But I know it's a real longshot for some films - more than likely I'll be left with a bunch of randos that will refuse to connect to anything.  

THE PLOT:  During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

AFTER: About a week ago, I watched "Starring Adam West", which pointed out that Mr. West's most famous role, before playing Batman on TV, was in the 1964 movie "Robinson Crusoe on Mars".  Over fifty years later, and we're right back there, with a man stranded on Mars - the more things change, the more they remain the same, right?  Oh, the movies look better, and the special effects are much more sophisticated, but this is just the concept of a cast away on an island that's much, much further away.  

If you think I'm disparaging the film, I'm really not - if I wanted to do that, I'd call it "Home Alone" on Mars, because as his crew blasted off, I was thinking about that moment in "Home Alone" when Catherine O'Hara's character suddenly realizes - when on the PLANE - that she forgot about Kevin.  (I still don't see how that's even possible, I mean, at some point you have to realize that you have one more ticket and boarding pass than you have kids on hand, right?  If nothing else, the airline staff would point that out, even if you're a complete nincompoop who doesn't count your children.  But then, we'd never have that movie.)  

This is a story of survival, of man triumphing over the elements, of a man whose spirit would not be broken, despite overwhelming odds - but there were some things that felt quite contrived to me, like the fact that Watney was a botanist.  If he had been any other kind of scientist, like a geologist or physicist, survival would not have been possible.  Yeah, it's kind of a "fait accompli", but also a contrivance, at least in retrospect.  I'm sure I can think of many others, like the fact that there's always a camera recording wherever Watney is - in the HAB, in the rover - there's always something his thoughts, and not just the invisible omniscient camera.  Sure, I get that without such a convenience, the audience wouldn't be able to follow along, but looking back on it, it feels like a cheat.  Yeah, I get that he needs to talk to the camera to stay sane (my wife was away last weekend, and I was having conversations with our cat by day 2) but still...

Again, my frame of reference here is "Interstellar", which I watched last September.  Side by side, they're nearly equal - both have Matt Damon in them, one in a starring role, and one in a supporting role.  Both have Jessica Chastain in them, same deal.  Both feature astronauts overcoming incredible odds and hostile environments, and performing risky maneuvers in space.  But "The Martian" is just about a guy surviving and trying to contact Earth again, but "Interstellar" is about saving the whole human race, it seems to carry more weight in that sense.  Oh, I get "The Martian", tell a big story by focusing on the little things, but "Interstellar" went the other way, told a big story by going big.  And while "The Martian" ran two and a half hours and seemed to drag at times, "Interstellar" was over THREE hours long, and kept me on the edge of my seat for nearly the whole time.  

Plus, it's worth mentioning that I had no idea where "Interstellar" was going with its plot, and I figured I pretty much knew how "The Martian" was going to end.  Sure, my bad for not going to see it in the theaters, but shame on people who gave away spoilers - and I'm including the Golden Globes, who basically tipped the ending just by placing this film in a particular award category.  (We all know that if it bends, it's funny, but if it breaks, it's not...)  Am I still bitter about that?  Perhaps. I just know I was robbed of the chance to experience this film with a clean slate.  And that affects the suspense, the drama, everything.  

No, I didn't read the book first, for exactly the same reason - that would have removed all doubt over Watney's fate, and then bye-bye, dramatic tension.  From what I understand, the book was more involved in the methodology of surviving on Mars - so I guess if you like movies that emphasize the science part of "science-fiction", this is the film for you.  But if you prefer the fiction part a bit more, and dig black holes, then go with "Interstellar".  

But I'm still buoyed and encouraged by both films - the future of mankind, and man's space travel, is a lot more positive in the movies than it is in real life.  Just thinking about how someone has to calculate things like launch windows and mission lengths to get from one planet to another - it's baffling and exciting at the same time.  And this brings up the point I made the other day, about the meteor heading "straight for Earth".  Nothing heads straight for anything, because everything in the universe is constantly in motion.  If a spacecraft takes two years to get to Mars, you have to aim not at where Mars is, but at where it's GOING to be.  And then to get back to Earth, same problem - it's just not going to be in the place it was when you left it.  I don't know how you work out something like that, but hey, I'm no rocket scientist.  I can't even figure out how they tell which car's in the lead in a NASCAR race, when you factor in all the pit stops, and there are cars all over every part of the track.

Also starring Matt Damon (last seen in "Interstellar"), Jessica Chastain (ditto), Jeff Daniels (last seen in "Dumb and Dumber To"), Michael Peña (last heard in "Turbo"), Kristen Wiig (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon 2"), Sean Bean (last seen in "The Island"), Kate Mara (last seen in "Transcendence"), Sebastian Stan (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover (last seen in "The To Do List"), Nick Mohammed, Shu Chen, Eddy Ko.

RATING: 7 out of 10 disco songs

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