Since around 2000, director Sir Ridley Scott has had quite a lot of trouble with getting his career back on track. Mostly known for giving us the sci-fi classics “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” the last truly outstanding film he delivered was the highly-entertaining “Gladiator,” which claimed five Oscars, including Best Picture (Scott himself was also nominated for Best Director). Afterward, he followed this up with a number of forgettable or disappointing projects, such as “Black Hawk Down” (which earned him another Oscar nod), “Hannibal,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Prometheus,” “The Counselor,” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
To put it simply, it seemed as though he would never deliver another great film to stand beside the masterpieces he had given us at the beginning of his long career. However, all that changed last year when he gave us “The Martian,” a film that earned seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It may not have won any of them, but what was more important was that the film marked the return of a great director to form, showing us that he does indeed still have what it takes to captivate an audience nearly 40 years after he first made it big.
The film follows a NASA mission to Mars that consists of six astronauts, including Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon). After the team is hit by a powerful storm, the mission is aborted. However, Mark is struck by a piece of debris and believed to be killed, leaving Commander Lewis to order the evacuation of the rest of the team. Little do they know that Mark is indeed alive, and now left alone on Mars with only his intellect to help him stay that way. Luckily, NASA notices that he’s alive, and Mark even comes up with a way for them to begin communicating, but with a potential rescue mission so far off, he’ll have to stretch his food supply (and attempt to grow more), while solving all of the numerous problems that come his way if he’s to have even the smallest chance of making it back to Earth.
Yes, once again Matt Damon needs to be rescued, and once more from a far off planet no less. Yet, it’s that premise that gives us one of the best films of 2015, as Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard (adapting Andy Weir’s novel) take what could have been a rather ordinary rescue film and turn it into a thrilling and breathtaking experience. The film is set up with a pretty simple structure, posing one problem after another, not only to Mark as he tries to survive the harsh and unforgiving landscape of Mars, but also to NASA as they try to figure out the fastest way possible to launch a rescue mission to bring Mark home.
This inevitably results in the film feeling somewhat episodic, with there being one situation to get out of before another takes its place right after, but the thing is, it never becomes bothersome in the least. The film presents these problems in such a gripping way that you find yourself transfixed as Mark fights for his life, battling starvation, suffocation, and the elements, all while trying to get out of the terrible position he has unexpectedly found himself in.
Meanwhile, millions of miles away, NASA rushes to build a supply probe in order to help Mark stay alive long enough for the actual rescue mission to reach him, but with the clock ticking quickly, certain corners may need to be cut in order to make their launch date. It’s here where we get several great scenes of scientists and engineers solving their own series of problems, like how to communicate with Mark, how to get supplies to him the fastest, and ultimately how to rescue him. In their own way, these scenes are just as gripping as the immediate life-or-death situations that Mark has to deal with, because like him, NASA is fighting against the clock. To pay the film an even higher compliment, there are echoes of Ron Howard’s masterpiece “Apollo 13” to be seen throughout both series of trials and tribulations.
However, none of this would even matter if it weren’t for the emotional connection the audience forms with the titular Martian, and that’s thanks in large part to Matt Damon’s phenomenal, Oscar-nominated performance. In a sense, he’s a kind of Hanksian everyman that you can easily form that attachment to, which certainly helps when most of the film features Damon in a one-man show, documenting everything as he strives to survive. Credit must also be given to the rest of the excellent ensemble, including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, and Kate Mara. It’s the kind of cast that feels so natural together, which only serves to help make the film that much more believable.
As this is the extended edition of the film, I suppose we should discuss what new material was added to the original cut. Supposedly there was about ten minutes of additional footage in this new cut, but personally I only noticed perhaps one scene that I didn’t recall from the theatrical edition, so the remaining material was not particularly noticeable. It’s possible that it was mostly small snippets of scenes added here and there, but basically nothing to really change the film in any significant way, so overall, the addition doesn’t make it any better or any worse.
Overall, Scott has delivered a magnificent epic, one that is easily his best film in 15 years. It’s thrilling, intriguing, intellectually-stimulating, amusing, and surprisingly fast-paced for a two and a half hour film with a relatively simple plot. It may be a series of problems that need solving, but when you can turn that into something this gripping and this emotionally involving, then the filmmakers have clearly done something right, leaving us with a cinematic experience that is not soon forgotten.
“The Martian (Extended Edition)” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Every frame of this science-fiction epic is beautifully sharp and clear, which allows the amazing Oscar-nominated production design and visual effects to shine. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is likewise flawless, giving you all audial elements from the dialogue to the soundtrack in outstanding quality. Overall, the presentation of the film is the best you could possibly ask for, which leaves you with an unbeatable experience.
Commentary on Both Cuts of the Film with Ridley Scott, Drew Goddard, and Andy Weir: An informative commentary with the director, screenwriter, and author of the novel that features several interesting tidbits about the making of the film.
Deleted Scenes (4 Minutes): A few deleted sequences that didn’t make either cut of the film.
The Long Way Home: Making The Martian (79 minutes): A fantastic multi-part look behind the scenes at the making of the film, featuring tons of interviews with the cast and crew.
Dare Mighty Things: NASA’s Journey to Mars (15 Minutes): A featurette that discusses the possibility of exploring Mars.
The Journey to Mars 101 (122 minutes): A series of Q & As, one featuring NASA scientists discussing the challenge of getting to Mars, another featuring professors discussing living on Mars, and a third with Scott, Goddard, and Weir discussing science-fiction.
Ridley Scott Discusses NASA’s Journey to Mars (1 Minutes): A quick word from the director about Mars.
Gag Reel (7 Minutes): A so-so collection of outtakes.
Ares Mission Videos (30 Minutes): A series of videos that includes interviews with the Ares Crew and NASA personnel, as well as a tour of the ship.
Production Art Gallery
Sir Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” is a thoroughly entertaining epic that easily ranks as one of the best films of 2015, and as the director’s best film since 2000’s “Gladiator.” With an outstanding cast and a well-crafted screenplay from Oscar nominee Drew Goddard, the film offers plenty of excitement and thrills to keep you on the edge of your sear throughout the film’s surprisingly fast 150-minute runtime. The extended edition may not offer much in the way of new footage, but neither does it hinder it in any way, making this the perfect edition to own if you haven’t already picked up the original release.
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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