Oscar Outlook: The Martian

I went to Montessori for elementary school, which means instead of grades, we just had periodic reviews. In each and every review, my parents were informed that Jessica is a bright kid, but she needs to work more on her science. At Montessori, you worked at your own pace and have a set amount of things to get done each day and I always put off science for last.

You know why?

Because it bored me to tears. I know I am supposed to be wowed at the way plants grow and that we can send people into space, but I just have never cared. In high school, I forced myself to learn enough about biology to pass the AP Bio test purely so I could take one less science class in college. I liked Chemistry and Psychics alright, as those were mostly math, and I loved math, I just thought science was kind of stupid.

My general indifference towards science turned into disdain once this whole “I f***ing love science” trend started because I found on social media, people would often dismiss evidence culled from the social sciences and be like, “here is a study with data and numbers and the scientific method. Boom. Scienced.”

One thing I did remember from my science classes is that you can take your data and manipulate it to say pretty much anything you want, which is why peer review is such an important step in the process. I am not saying any of these peer review studies are categorically invalid. What I am saying is that the empirical evidence culled from an anthropologist embedded within a group of people for a year is equally valid because it, like traditional science experiments, is also peer reviewed.

Moral of the story? I find the standard definition of science to be really overrated.

Perhaps that is why a lot of the charm of The Martian is lost on me. Sure, some of the science stuff he does is nifty and keeps him full of potatoes, but I am generally just like, “okay you fixed the rover, okay hexadecimal alphabet, etc.” That’s fine. Good job. But it is just Cast Away on Mars to me, in that I have already seen a man stranded somewhere problem solve his way through staying alive that it feels like familiar territory.

What was fascinating to me about this movie was the problem solving taking place on the nearby spaceship and back on Earth. Even though it is a plot point lifted straight out of Armageddon to slingshot around the Earth using the Earth’s gravity, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong, and the others back at Houston are all very compelling characters even though we know little about them save for their occupation. They really make the most of their small roles through reactions, intonation, and demeanor to give us a sense of who these people are. And of all of the performances in this movie, it is Sean Bean who steals every scene he is in and blows the competition out of the water. I even liked the scenes on the spaceship filled with the crewmen that accidentally left Mark (Matt Damon) behind even though I find Kate Mara to be one of the more talentless consistently employed actresses working today.

Really, the part of the movie I could do without is the part related to the titular martian, Damon. I really wasn’t expecting this, as I have been a big fan of Damon and his performances for years. I don’t even think this is necessarily his fault either. He performs his part well. I just take substantial issue with the tone of these Mars scenes.  From what I’ve been told, it is an effort to preserve the tone of the book, authored by Andy Weir. This is the problem that comes when adapting a book to the screen. I haven’t read the book, but my best guess is there is a lot of internal monologuing happening inside Mark’s head. Rather than use voice over to indicate what he is thinking, the movie has Mark talking to the cameras in a way I haven’t really seen since Saved By the Bell or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Mark addresses the camera like he knows a movie theater full of people is watching him. I understand the need for exposition. Someone has to explain Mark doesn’t have enough food/oxygen/water to last him forever, but the first monologue he gives to the camera plug just doesn’t make any sense. These video feeds mostly exist for posterity’s sake so researchers can make the most of them later. Which is why when he explains his dilemma in a very basic way, I raised an eyebrow. Who exactly are you talking to, Matt Damon? Cause if I were stranded on Mars, I would assume it would take someone with enough science acumen to, you know, get to Mars, that you don’t need to explain basic things about space to them.

From that point Damon’s monologues grow increasingly more bizarre as he addresses the camera like he is a late night talk show host. I can somewhat rationalize that this stems from boredom and, hey, who knows what the psychological effects of being stranded on Mars would be? To borrow another plot point from Armageddon, we can always claim his whole pirate schtick is just a case of space dementia. Nonetheless, I found the tone fake and forced. I found it odd that he never had much of a breakdown save for when he cursed a couple of times when he learned his crew hadn’t been informed he was alive. He never cried. He never had just a full blown meltdown. Instead, he was just the Jay Leno of space, groovin’ along to disco songs joking his way through each day. It is plausible, but I find it emotionally boring.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, everyone seems emotionally invested in the guy who would sing “Twist and Shout” with a parade all the way to the spaceship rescue pod if he could, while that guy actually stuck up there seems to be doing just fine. So, this is why I really liked the parts of The Martian that didn’t involve The Martian. If it were just those guys thinking stuff up, as Bruce Willis notes NASA is wont to do, I am pretty sure this movie cracks my top five. But the part on Mars is simply too out of this world for me to reconcile as even remotely believable, even if someone can explain it to me with science.

My Rolling Top Five
1. Bridge of Spies
2. Inside Out
3. Going Clear
4. The Intern
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron

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