‘The Martian’ is lovely. It’s warm and comforting and funny. It’s Ridley Scott doing Space again, but instead of messing it up with rampant philosophy and the Monster Mash, he strays away from the pitfalls of ‘Prometheus’ and keeps everything focused around the humanity of the characters involved.
The book upon which the film is based, by Andy Weir, is sublime. It covers the intricacies of spaceflight in sumptuous detail, all the things that can go wrong in a tiny pressure vessel millions of miles from home. Of course, the film can’t afford the same level of scientific insight in a manageable run-time, but it more than makes up for it in in other ways.
Okay, this is starting to look like an actual review rather than my usual inane ramblings, so let’s get back to our regular transmission.
‘The Martian’ makes ‘Gravity’ look like a dildo. Where ‘Gravity’ drains four D-cells in an attempt to vibrate you to satisfaction as reliably as possible, ‘The Martian’ offers the benefits of a sensitive and considerate lover that tends to your needs and actually maintains eye contact for most of it.
Indeed, ‘The Martian’ only ramps up the tension and the drama right at the point of climax. It moves at different speeds to satisfy its audience, rather than the “On/Off, all-or-nothing” approach of ‘Gravity’. ‘The Martian’ understands that you need laughter as well as stimulation; it understands that pounding the G-Spot like a Rousey Cannonade is just a part of the overall process.
This even applies to the cast; Bullock and Clooney are there just to stimulate the right areas, appendages extending the film’s main oscillatory function. But Damon and Chastain, Daniels and Wiig, Ejiofor and Bean all bring their own charm to the affair, their own interest; they’re the wandering lips and searching hands that remind you that this is the real thing. Even Donald Glover’s minor role is perfectly realised by the young actor; he’s sadly outclassed by more experienced colleagues, but even though it’s not exactly what gets you going you still appreciate the film’s openness to experimentation.
Oh yes, ‘The Martian’ will try Butt Stuff.
And, whereas ‘Gravity’ finishes on the oh-so-subtle imagery of its protagonist swimming upwards into the light (METHAPHORICAL), ‘The Martian’ offers you a quick but fulfilling epilogue to each of its characters. In essence, ‘The Martian’ helps you clean up afterwards, where ‘Gravity’ just gets a quick wipe before going back in the drawer.
Comparing these two films is arguably unfair; you ought to know with ‘Gravity’ that you’re just going in for a session of instant gratification; it’s a simulation of the best bits of the real thing, but it’s never going to be as satisfying. No, ‘The Martian’ has much more in common with the genre-defining ‘Apollo 13’.
Indeed, you could well view ‘The Martian’ as the modern-day successor to Ron Howard’s 1995 tour de force. It takes full advantage of contemporary special effects and uses them to tell an amazing story that actually leaves you feeling inspired and hopeful, and it has so much scientific authenticity that if feels like it’s based on a historical event.
‘The Martian’ is invested in the story it tells, and its authenticity extends to its characters, the stories that they each will tell once it’s all over. In a short space of time it presents a different perspective for each of them, but flawlessly ties them all together about the fate of the eponymous hero. Each person there has a different reason for caring about the same thing, and with some deliciously clever acting and a few light directorial touches, it explores each character exactly as much as it needs to. By the end I felt like I knew even minor characters, like the low-ranking satellite operator, better than I did the main protagonists of much more extravagant movies. Like fucking ‘Gravity’.
I just hope Scott takes his successes here and applies them to his inevitable ‘Prometheus’ sequels. If there’s one fucking thing those movies will need, it’s some sensible characterisation.