Hollywood@Home: The Martian

Matt Damon is happy, but stranded in "The Martian."

Matt Damon is happy, but stranded in “The Martian.”

Hollywood makes great science fiction, but I’m sorry to report that “The Martian” doesn’t fly. At least, not as well as I hoped it would. Yes, I’m referring to one of this year’s best picture nominees, directed by one of my faves, Ridley Scott. (Spoilers, dead ahead, by the way).

So, what’s the problem? You got Matt Damon stranded on the angry Red Planet. And, NASA is doing its best to bring him back home. Well, the central problem, by my reckoning, is that the storytelling doesn’t make sense. Not in the real world. And, that’s clearly where the filmmakers wanted to be with this story…in the real world.

I think it’s safe to say we don’t have the technology to get humans safely to Mars and back, so why even bother with scientific accuracy? And, that’s not to say “The Martian” was all that correct. Plenty of dramatic liberties are taken.

The out-of-nowhere sandstorm, for example, would have had a 100% kill rate. It’s very unlikely that Damon’s colleagues would have launched during the brunt of the storm and they more than likely would have been killed or seriously injured. Sorry, but in a non-fiction world, everyone would have died. In a true sci-fi world, almost anything is possible. We wouldn’t be sweating the details, because we could easily assume that the future worked it all out. It’s fiction. Let it ride.

Well, “The Martian” goes to great pains to declare itself the real deal. NASA was consulted. Presumed facts are cited. The movie wants to be believed. Two other recent films didn’t have that problem: “Interstellar” and “Gravity” were just for fun. They were entertaining movies about space. “The Martian” is a film that doesn’t know if it truly wants to be a thriller.

While perhaps theoretically possible, the final rescue plan is just plain ludicrous. A million-to-one shot that even space-happy overextended astronauts would never agree to. No, they would have just gone home. The ending is so farfetched that the suspension of disbelief dies long before anyone in the film ever does.

Some other quick notes: At two hours, 22-minutes, the film is way too long. Matt Damon is too happy, at times, to be believed. “The Martian” might have been interesting if the story had concentrated on Damon’s isolation instead of constant updates on what NASA was doing to rescue him. Again, the producers didn’t know whether it was a thriller or a character study. It worked as neither.

Performances were average. Not awards worthy. I think even Scott’s “Prometheus” worked better as an ensemble piece. Supporting actors in “The Martian” reminded me of the cast in “Armageddon.” If the Academy wanted to honor a space opera this year, they should have chosen “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I would have taken that film over “The Martian” any day. Grade: C-

Matt Damon is left for dead in "The Martian."

Matt Damon is left for dead in “The Martian.”