When Ridley Scott directs a film, it’s going to have outstanding visuals. When Matt Damon stars in a film, it’s going to feature an extremely likeable character. When both are together on a project, it’s a good sign you’re going to have a good time. Their newest film together, The Martian, definitely reinforces the idea that both can still pull off what audiences want to see on the big screen. The Martian is an adventure packed, visually stunning spectacle that takes the engaging elements from recently successful films (Gravity and Interstellar) within the same genre but allows itself to stand out by creating an outright enjoyable experience for the film patron. While Scott’s visuals are able to capture the scope of Mars perfectly, Damon’s performance grounds the situation to an isolated story for the audience to attach themselves to.
At this point in Ridley Scott’s career, he does not have anything to prove in terms of delivering groundbreaking special effects and set design. In fact, his visuals should not even be noted anymore when he releases a film because the level of quality he puts forth in visuals is already expected. Yet, in the opening 15 minutes, it’s near impossible not to express admiration for his visual performance. His large, barren landscapes of Mars are able to express feelings of terrifying isolation as well as a desire to explore the unknown. Obviously, the primary goal of these large set pieces is to emphasize the idea of how isolated Mark Watney is, but they also create a sense of yearning for exploration in the viewer. This idea is exercised in the film so that the audience can comprehend why Watney, his crew, and even NASA are so determined to carry out such complex missions to the planet. However, looking only at Scott’s execution of his large-scale special effects tells just half the story of the films visuals. The impeccable set design and blocking of the actors makes the ship that Watney’s crew lives on look like it is actually traveling through outer space. The style in which the crew transverses the spinning vessel creates the illusion that the crew is out of orbit, relying on low gravity to maneuver. This illusion is strengthened by the stark white, futuristic design of the interior of the ship that bears a resemblance to similar spaceship sets in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although Scott’s visuals are able to accurately portray the film’s setting, Matt Damon is the one responsible for narrowing the scope of space down to a personal level, so the audience can sympathize with the story.
Like Scott, Damon is a master of his craft and has already proven decades ago that he belongs on the largest screens in the world. Almost every character that Damon portrays instantly becomes likable and appealing to the audience. The style that he brings to his characters is what has made his career so successful; his performance instantly makes the audience care about his characters motives. While the film could have easily become a story profiling a beat down astronaut on a foreign planet, the filmmakers were able to take a more difficult path by making the main character an individual determined to beat the odds against him. Normally, this is challenging because the audience would have trouble believing that someone in this situation could remain optimistic. Nevertheless, Damon is able to squash all of these concerns in the way he delivers the comic relief. The sarcastic comments by Watley to NASA help to lighten the mood of the situation, letting the audience forget just how dire of a situation Watley is in.
In conclusion, the film is just as excellent as it should be, considering the skill level of the pieces involved. Both Scott and Damon are able to build off of one another’s expertise in order to create an entertaining space adventure. In previous years, we have been treated to technological marvels in the space film genre, but this is the first in a while that allows the audience to walk away with an overall pleasant experience without requiring multiple viewings to comprehend and enjoy. The film reminds us once again that the union of tremendous visuals and compelling acting creates a very pleasurable experience for the audience. The Martian definitely earns every bit of its 4 out of 5 Reels from Celluloid Cinema.
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