Best Picture Profile: The Martian

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As we come closer to the Academy Awards, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the eight coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!

“Journey to the Unknown” is definitely an apt description of The Martian, which is, quite literally, a film about a man journeying into a hostile environment he understands but needs to learn to navigate. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a botanist accidentally left behind and presumed dead on the surface of Mars, completely alone at a base camp previously occupied by his entire team.

Luckily for Watney, his role as botanist allows him to figure out a way to survive on Mars – or at least, it helps him survive long enough to get to a second base camp a ways away until he can communicate that he’s even there. This last part is the conflict of the entire first part of the movie, as everyone on Earth believes that Watney is dead and isn’t exactly sending any help back. Eventually, he manages to make contact and then he embarks on a daring mission and gets back to Earth and is a professor at NASA school or whatever. Yay.

…Okay, full disclosure: I didn’t really love this movie. Can you tell? I feel like I’m being super subtle about it. (…) I’ve actually been staring at this WordPress screen for a while trying to figure out what to even WRITE about this movie, so I figured, why not be honest, right? I guess it was fine. The effects looked good, but it just felt like Gravity with a better script and no female lead.

Let’s talk about the performances, at least. Matt Damon is hyper-reliable, as he is in basically every movie he appears in, so him being very good didn’t exactly make the movie any less meh. The rest of the actors were good (Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Mara were just a few of the awards-season darlings making up the supporting players, alongside a pretty great cameo from Donald Glover), but they didn’t… do anything. Having them in the movie felt like a weird half-assed Castaway thing, frankly, where they need to rescue him and we’re also supposed to care about them but… we don’t. We care about Watney. To be honest, the supporting cast showed up for just enough time that I felt like I was supposed to be invested in their lives, but I just wasn’t, and it detracted from my investment in Watney, ultimately.

I get why this is nominated. Ridley Scott is a prestige director, and his work on this film is solidly… solid. The story and narrative are clear and direct, it’s visually stunning, and it’s exactly the kind of story the Academy loves, but it just feels so… done. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this movie, but it just feels like a place-filler – like, “this year’s space movie.” K. It won’t win, because it hasn’t won any precursors and Scott isn’t nominated for Best Director, but if you like wondering if the attractive white male lead will get home okay, then you’ll probably be really into this movie.

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