Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels
While on a mission, astronaut and biologist Mark Watney (Damon) and his fellow crew members are forced to return to their vessel when they encounter a severe dust storm while collecting samples from the surface of Mars. His crew makes it back to the ship, but Watney gets struck by debris and swept away. His crew, assuming he’s been killed, continues on their journey through space. Watney eventually regains consciousness and with a nasty wound, makes his way back to the “Hab” to clean up. He realises quickly he only has enough food to last 300 days and that he needs to figure out a way to survive for four years, at which time a crew will arrive at the Schiaparelli crater and he can rendezvous with them. He uses his botany skills to begin farming potatoes, figures out a way to make water using extracted hydrogen from rocket fuel fuel and waits for contact from Earth. Back as NASA, Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), the mission director, learns Watney is still alive, and NASA’s personnel race against time to figure out a rescue plan, and with the help of China’s classfied booster that they can send supplies to Watney while he waits for his crew to rescue him.
Why it might win Best Picture
A Ridley Scott/Matt Damon space odyssey with a smart, snarky botanist astronaut who creates a potato crop using vacuum sealed poo? It’s the perfect Oscar bait: A wide and varied ensemble cast (Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Michael Peña, Sean Bean) where the parts are small but not insignificant, and the actors enter and exit as needed and without fanfare, beautiful cinematography of “Mars” that silently conveys the enormity of the planet and the desolation Watney faces, and a script that, while not earth-shattering, is equal parts funny and dramatic throughout. Damon is perfect as Watney, and while I don’t think he’ll win Best Actor, he’s great in the role – but he’s great in everything, so it’s easy to enjoy watching him figure out how to survive and chuckle along with his snarky video diary entries. In a nutshell, it’s a solid blockbuster film that hits all the right notes in all the right ways, and sometimes, that’s all that voters want in a film.
Why it might not win Best Picture
As satisfactorily blockbuster-y as The Martian is, it’s also really not breaking any new ground. 2013’s Gravity did many of the things The Martian did but better, and probably slicker, given that it relied more heavily on CGI, and I think that will be in the back of voters’ minds. The script, while sharp and efficient, is possibly a little too efficient – there were times when I felt it lacked a little oomph, particularly in scenes with Watney’s crew. Their story could have been fleshed out a little more, instead of quickly showing their seemingly quick decision to go and rescue Watney. I can’t help but feel things were edited out to save time and to focus more on NASA and Watney’s stories. The tension isn’t as gripping as Gravity; there certainly aren’t many edge-of-my-seat moments, so while the film is funny and intriguing, does it really have the strength to beat the other nominees who offer more by way of tension and audience engagement? I’m not so sure.
Have you seen The Martian? I’d love to know what you thought!
Until next time,