I was late to The Martian party, having only read it earlier this year. I enjoyed it then and had a good feeling about the movie directed by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon. Something about the trailers suggested the film-makers got the essential point of Andy Weir's novel and wouldn't go out of their way to ruin it.
There is a distinct pleasure in having favorable first impressions backed up by the actual product.
I very much enjoyed The Martian which marks the third hard sci-fi space thriller in as many years that I thought really worked. With $55 million taken in over the weekend, it also looks like the kind of financial success that could bring in another round of such projects. As a big fan of space exploration I tend to think that as a very good thing.
So where does this movie lie in the big scheme of things?
The challenge is that while The Martian fulfills the promise of the book and certainly ranks high in science fiction movies, it's not a great movie. Not in my humble estimation, anyway. While well-acted, produced, directed, and filmed, this is ultimately "Cast Away" in space. The point of this film is that ingenuity and perseverance pay off and that even the most impossible situations might be salvaged with a little luck and hard-work. Noble sentiments but not really in the same mind-blowing sphere as 2001 or even Interstellar.
So where does that leave us?
The Martian is my favorite movie I've seen set predominantly on Mars. Yes, I think it even beats out the original Total Recall.
It is my favorite science fiction movie with Jeff Daniels (although if one includes Arachnophia into the mix it becomes dicier).
It is my second favorite movie with Matt Damon playing an astronaut.
It also my second favorite science fiction movie with Chiwetel Ejiofor in a major role.
I would rank it as Ridley Scott's fifth best film overall and his third best science fiction film.
It's my favorite movie with Michael Pena.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this is a few notches above a good movie but it's probably not going to be in my top five anytime soon. It's definitely worth a watch, maybe even a rewatch, but I would pull a skeptical face if anyone said this was the best space movie of all time.
I do have one more positive thing to say for it though.
As I walked from the theater I heard a little boy say to his dad, "I want to go to Mars. When can I go to Mars? I want to build a house there." Considering how tense and dangerous this movie makes space travel appear - I think that is one small positive sign for the future.
If one is in the market for such things.