When Ridley Scott directs a space movie and it’s so terrible that it makes you wish you were watching “Prometheus” (perhaps the ultimate exercise in promising so much and delivering so little), you know you’re in trouble. So “The Martian” sucks, big deal, don’t see it.
Why write a review about it a few weeks after it’s already opened? Because unfortunately, for better or for worse, it has had a scarily successful impact on our pop culture. As of this writing, the film has made over $150 million domestically and holds an absurd 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. America likes this. America likes this exercise in Hollywood patting itself on the back that takes two and a half hours (and feels like one of Scott’s infamous bloated director’s cuts in theatrical form) to reach an obvious, inevitable conclusion that all but the most simpleton of audiences will guess within the first 30 seconds–and even they can’t possibly go beyond five minutes without doing so. This is almost worse than global audiences flocking to “Jurassic World” in raptor packs big enough to make it the No. 3 most successful film of all time. Because at least everyone who goes to see that movie (I hope) knows full well that it’s crap, but have paid their ticket price (myself included) out of an obligation to childhood nostalgia for a masterpiece (“Jurassic Park”).
The outrageous success of “The Martian,” the second biggest October opening of all time (just a million shy of “Gravity”’s opening weekend, which, no pun intended, is galaxies beyond this in terms of quality), is so damn depressing because it actually has a shot at winning some Oscars, or at least being nominated. People are seeing this movie because they actually think it’s good. They actually praise this “crowd-pleaser,” this barf-bucket that makes me realize I liked it better the first time when anonymous NASA control employees mindlessly throw their papers up in the air in celebration when the hero comes home safe at the end when it was called “Armageddon.”
I’m not even going to call that crucial reveal of a plot point a spoiler alert–did anybody even think for one second that Matt Damon was not going to make it home? After all, he’s going to “science the shit” out of his situation and find a solution! Ridley Scott somehow thinks we will feel some semblance of suspense, or at least he hopes so, otherwise, why else are we watching two and a half slow-as-molasses hours of Matt Damon play botanist as he creates agricultural development to survive on a green-screen Mars.
Of course, that one-man show of a movie would, believe it or not, be too interesting for this mess. Oh no. We have to intercut this with an endless slew of celebrities playing NASA officials looking bored to be there. Hey Look! It’s Jessica Chastain phoning it in as the astronaut who accidentally leaves Damon behind and now feels guilty about it and decides on a whim to waste another 19 months of her life taking her crew to go save him (all while disobeying orders! Uh oh, she’s going to be in trouble. Or is she?). Hey Look! It’s Jeff Daniels playing the same role he always does–the killjoy guy in charge (except this time he doesn’t have catchy Aaron Sorkin dialogue to help him out). Hey Look! It’s Kirsten Wiig looking just as confused as to why she’s there as we are. This sounds like a recipe for success. It’s as if the filmmakers heeded the advice of the film’s dumbest scene, where an upstart young computer hacker tries to figure out how to save Matt Damon, and he literally reads off his computer screen, “Calculations Correct,” because that’s totally how we come up with solutions that NASA can’t. Especially when said young hacker just walks into NASA (that I guess has the most lax security of any government organization in the post-Sept. 11 world) while being met with no more than an unworried “who are you?” before he just nonchalantly pitches his brilliant idea to the head of NASA. And it is a brilliant solution–after all, the computer itself told him, “Calculations Correct.”
It’s often said that the most brilliant title card in the history of cinema is the sound effect jump scare that accompanies the “Tuesday” card in “The Shining.” Well, I suppose “The Martian” is equally successful in getting inside the head of a murderer every time it presents a title card showing the passage of time on Mars (e.g. Sol 200, Sol 561, etc.), and accompanies it with the most insufferable “bing.” By the 15th or so of these, it made me feel as if I were Jack Torrance in “The Shining” himself, as I felt an incredible urge to strangle the screen. The feeling was only encouraged by the fact that I was watching it in 3D and, like a child, found myself reaching out at the characters with my squeezing palms.
The only reason why I’m giving even a half a star to this disgrace to cinema and insult to the intelligence of audience members supposedly going to this film looking for a little more than a Transformers-esque Blockbuster (though maybe they really are that dumb if they lap it up so) is because, well, it’s a movie. It’s not poorly shot. It’s not well shot, but at least I suppose it’s technically accomplished in a polished sort of way. There are coherent sentences in the dialogue. Attempts are made in the acting (sometimes) to do more than a line reading. Yep, it’s a movie. And it’s a terrible movie whose success provides a window into what’s wrong with audiences and critics today.
But most of all, it’s yet another painful reminder that the man who made “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and even the underappreciated “Legend” is, for all intensive purposes, dead.