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Oscar Challenge, Day 2: The Martian
The Martian: A Solitary Life on Mars
By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a series written by Alex Carrigan about this year's Academy Award nominated films. To see the rules for this challenge and to find other articles related to it, go to this page.
That random number generator I used to determine the viewing order sure made things serendipitous. Yesterday, I was feeling slightly underwhelmed by The Revenant, finding the film slightly repetitive and also somewhat unoriginal. I've seen plenty of movies of people surviving in the wilderness, so watching someone eating raw fish or huddling for warmth around a small campfire seemed something that wasn't as impressive, even with a great direction and performance behind it. In a way, it's like I was set up to watch The Martian after that film. It's like the universe wanted to say "Oh, you don't find wilderness survival stories impressive? Well, Mr. Carrigan. How about we amplify it to even more horrifying extremes, setting the tale in the harshest possible environment? What will you have to say about that for your little series?"
To which I tell the universe: "Thanks, I really needed that."
The Martian is a Ridley Scott film following an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) after he is left behind on Mars following a forced evacuation from his base. Watney is stuck in the base until help can arrive, which NASA says would take about four years. That is also with the caveat that he needs to not die in one of the dozens of ways a human being can die on the desolate, oxygen deprived planet of Mars. Suffice to say, he has it rough. The film follows Watney as he tries to survive on Mars, while everyone back on Earth tries to find ways to keep him alive and bring him home.
The situation in The Martian is a lot more serious than in The Revenant. While The Revenant may have been a lot more visceral and gritty, The Martian's drama is a lot more fantastic, but slightly more terrifying. Not only does Watney have to survive against the unpredictable forces of an alien environment, but the slightest error will result in immediate and painful death. What's worse is that he has absolutely no one to share this experience with. DiCaprio did have companions at various parts of his journey, while Watney's only companion is a CD of Disco music one of his teammates left behind.
The Martian is probably one of the more technically intriguing films in this year's Oscar group. While a lot of it is clearly the product of CGI and green screening, there's still a certain realness to what we're watching. Gravity made it clear how precise the public wants their space movies to look and feel, and The Martian delivered. Despite how wide the Mars environment, it also feels extremely claustrophobic. There's nothing to hear, to find, or to observe besides the howling wind and the blowing sand, and that can leave an impact on the viewer.
Part of what made me like The Martian was also just how engaged I was the whole time. Watney is a pretty likable protagonist, and the viewer has plenty of reasons to want him to survive. He feels a little more approachable than DiCaprio's character in The Revenant, and while Watney may not have as many flashbacks, strange dream sequences, or backstory, we still are able to identify with him and spend the film curious to see how he'll handle the next obstacle.
Obviously, these are two very different survival tales, with different genres and different intentions behind them. The Martian is a lot more accessible (which is probably why it's the highest grossing of the eight nominated films), but it also has a lot more to enjoy on repeat viewings. There's a ton of attention and detail to the science of the film, from watching how Watney grows potatoes in Martian soil, to even watching him create water. It's really fascinating to see all the steps the characters take, and it's the kind of film that can be enjoyable and inspiring for anyone who wants to get into science or engineering.
Now, how does the film stack against the others its competing against? Sadly, despite how much I liked it and how much the public liked it, I don't think the film will have a good time at the Oscars. While I liked it more than The Revenant, it's unlikely to win over The Revenant, or even be seen as a real competitor in the race. This happens every year now that the Oscars increased their number of nominations, where some films are seen as much more hopeless competitors than others (anyone remember Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or Philomena?)
The film has seven nominations, and while it's pretty much unlikely to win Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Actor, it will probably have a better chance at the technical awards. The visual effects and production design were quite good for the film. The film never says what the exact date is, but it's implied to be relatively near-future, so there had to be some care and focus put into the design of control rooms and technology. I don't know if it will win any of those awards since it has a lot of really stiff competition, but I don't think it doesn't deserve any of them. Hell, maybe it will take both Sound Mixing and Sound Editing? You never know with the technical awards.
Overall, I liked The Martian. I don't think it's as good as Mad Max: Fury Road, nor do I think it has as good of a chance of winning as The Revenant, but it's still a highly enjoyable film with a lot of merit and a lot of appeal for a wide variety of audiences. It will probably be one of the films I'll enjoy a lot more as I go through this week, and while I don't think it will be in the Top 4, I'll probably look more fondly at it once this series is done.
1st: Mad Max: Fury Road
2nd: The Revenant
3rd: The Martian
Tomorrow: I move from one harsh environment to another by reviewing Spotlight. Then I'll wrestle with the notion of being a journalist writing about journalists.
#Real #FilmReview #TheMartian #MattDamon #AcademyAwards #Oscars #Challenge
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