“Robinson Crusoe” meets “Castaway.”
Was it war that was described as “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror”? Or maybe it was piloting an airliner. Doesn’t matter. The phrase came to mind while watching “The Martian.” When it’s exciting, which it rarely is, it’s pretty gol’ durn exciting. When it’s not exciting, which is most of the time, it’s a bore.
The movie, in terms of story and production, is a head-scratcher. On the one hand, it has the all-star cast of all time: Matt Damon in the title role and Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara and Michael Peña, among bunches of others. Any one of these actors has sufficient star power to carry a movie solo. The fact that they’re all crammed into the same movie fighting for air time is odd. It’s not an ensemble, it’s a flash mob. Mara (“House of Cards”) is completely wasted and Daniels is half asleep. Damon does most of the heavy lifting and is pretty charming as the sensationally resourceful astronaut left behind.
Here’s the story: A team of NASA astronauts blasts off from Mars believing one of the crew, Mark Watney (Damon), was killed in a wild storm. As they head sullenly back to Earth, they get the awkward news: Watney had been knocked out — he is not dead but sleepeth.
Because of the distances involved, it will be like a year before Watney can be rescued and he has but a pitiful store of supplies. Back on Earth, everyone at NASA, plus a team of international scientists and eventually the entire world is focused on getting this guy back while his crew mates cook up a hugely improbable plan for a daring rescue. Spare no expense.
All of which gives rise to the question: For just one guy? For one stranded astronaut the entire world turns itself inside out for a year to save him? Could those same resources, that same concentration of brilliance not have been channeled to rescue 100,000 Syrians, save 500,000 African children, cure cancer, MS and the common cold? Oh, who cares?
Director Ridley Scott has created a visually compelling film and the special effects are extra special. But we spend way too much time looking at the arid red planet (Hey, isn’t that Bryce Canyon?) and the movie doesn’t know if it is a character study or a space thriller. The rocket ships keep taking off, but the movie never gets off the ground.