Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2015. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, TSG Entertainment, Scott Free Productions, Genre Films, International Traders, Kinberg Genre, Mid Atlantic Films. Screenplay by Drew Goddard, based on the book by Andy Weir. Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski. Produced by Mark Huffam, Simon Kinberg, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Aditya Sood. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams. Production Design by Arthur Max. Costume Design by Janty Yates. Film Editing by Pietro Scalia. Academy Awards 2015. Golden Globe Awards 2015. Toronto International Film Festival 2015.
A science expedition on the red planet encounters a storm that almost destroys the crew’s makeshift habitat, with one member (Matt Damon) injured by a windblown satellite. The rest of the crew misinterpret this accident as a fatal blow and take off for home, meaning that Damon wakes up with a metal antenna stuck in his abdomen and a planet all to himself. Realizing that it will be years before another mission is sent to Mars to collect him, this expert botanist gives himself as good a chance to survive as possible, putting his skills to growing potatoes, creating water and preparing whatever equipment he can find to travel to another part of the planet where there are communication materials he can cobble together to get in touch with the people on Earth. NASA gets wind of his having survived and has to avert a PR disaster, while the crew members aboard a ship spending months on its way back home learn of their error and make decisions of their own. This multi-million dollar adaptation of the hit bestseller by Andy Weir comes in the wake of Gravity, another foray into science-fiction determined to present the genre without the need for aliens or spaceship battles; relying on intelligent problem-solving and personality, the film does admittedly also involve beautiful visual effects and a sense of imagination. What’s missing, however, is a sense of process and, as a result, a sense of wonder. Imagine if All Is Lost kept putting the details of a trained skill set into montages while cutting away to endless scenes of talking heads arguing and you have this far too hurried sampling of what is obviously a richer story. Damon’s character goes through the stages that should come with this completely new form of isolation (weight loss, psychological fracturing) but we never feel it happen, while the details of getting him home aren’t as exciting as a situation that could have been better investigated (in this case Sandra Bullock’s loneliness in space on a foreign planet instead of orbiting in the sky). As a result, it’s like Robinson Crusoe on Mars is taking itself too seriously, with a brilliantly executed but not exciting rescue in the conclusion whose emotional payoff is slim. The actors give it everything they’ve got, though, and the experience is far too visually appealing to be boring.