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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 1, 2015

The Martian Review

RIDLEY SCOTT has made some very good movies: "Blade Runner", "Alien", "Thelma and Louise", "Gladiator". But his last ones were lackluster failures, like "Prometheus" and, most especially, his take on Moses, "Exodus: Gods and Kings". He's now back with a vengeance in "The Martian", which has all the makings of both an artistic and commercial success. Matt Damon in the title role gives such a solid performance that it will be a crime if he'd not get an Oscar nomination.

The movie is based on a best-seller that was originally self-published by its author, Andy Weir, online. It will remind you of other outer space films like "Apollo 13" and "Gravity", and even Tom Hanks’ "Castaway". When the movie opens, the astronauts of NASA's Ares III mission are already on planet Mars, at work collecting samples. They were notified by NASA that a big storm is coming and they should leave immediately.

Mark Watney (Matt) , is hit by debris and goes missing. Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) tried to look for him but he's nowhere to be found and they soon have to fly way. He's presumed to have died they have no choice but to leave him behind.

But it turns out that Matt is alive. He has a nasty wound on his tummy which he stitches up himself. A fighter, he just refuses to give up and die on the red planet. The scenes that follow make it a one-man show for Matt as he tries his best to survive on his own. Since he is also a botanist, he tries to grow his own potatoes using human waste and he repairs everything around him so he can journey across the planet and also contact NASA's mission control.

After more than half an hour, the movie becomes an ensemble when the other characters on mission control finally discover that he is still alive and they work together to find the solution in bringing him back home. The script tries to explain space exploration, astrophysics and engineering in terms that can be easily understood by viewers. It also touches on politics with Jeff Daniels as the NASA Director who appears as the movie's villain because he refuses initial efforts to help Matt.

Also in the cast contributing their own expertise on the ground are Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover and Mackenzie Davis. Out in space, the crew members of the missions' mother ship Hermes who returns back to Mars to save Matt include Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kata Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie. Everyone has his moment, including the songs used in the movie, mostly disco tunes that end with Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" as the end credits are flashed.

The movie is very engaging but a bit long with its running time of more than two hours. It can certainly profit from some trimming to make the pacing a bit faster. But all in all, it's great entertainment and as the film nears its climax with its great emotional punch, we cannot hold back our tears while everyone in the world is shown cheering in the efforts to rescue Matt.

The ending is very optimistic, life-affirming and inspiring. There have been some very bad sci-fi movies we've seen recently, like Johnny Depp's "Transcendence", Matthew McConaughey's "Interstellar", and even Matt's own "Elysium", but this one is definitely a crowd-pleaser, told with liberal touches of humor, and several notches higher in theme and execution. It's cinematography and computer special effects offer so much visual spectacle you'd think you're really seeing the surface of the Red Planet.