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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Martian

January 19th, 2016

The Martian - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, 3D Combo Pack, 4K Ultra Pack
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The Martian

The Martian opened in early October and became a huge box office and critical success. The film became the biggest hit in Ridley Scott's career and recently picked up seven Oscar nominations. Will I love it as much as the average critic did? Or will I be in the minority here?

The Movie

The film begins on Mars in the middle of the Ares III mission. We are quickly introduced to the crew, led by Commander Melissa Lewis. While most of the crew is outside of the habitat, Beth Johanssen gets a message from ground control. The storm that is coming is coming faster and harder than earlier estimates. In fact, it is going to be so strong that they will need to abort the mission. However, the storm hits while they are trying to get to the launch vessel and one of the crew, Mark Watney, is hit and carried off by the debris.

... Okay, we have to talk about the science for a second. This is impossible. The atmosphere on Mars is only about 1% as dense as it is on Earth. That means the wind speeds would have to be about ten times faster than they are on Earth to have the same effect. A storm this strong simply wouldn't happen. I mention this because, besides from this point, the science in this movie is mostly excellent. There are some smaller issues, as well as some that you can't expect the filmmakers to deal with. (The gravity on Mars is one third that of Earth's, but there's no way to simulate that here.) A lot of "Science Fiction" movies are closer to space operas that true science. This is a hard Science Fiction movie. That's one of the key selling points.

We see Ted Sanders, the NASA director, give a press conference about the mission, the storm, and the death of Mark Watney. However, the next day, we see Watney wake up. It turns out when he was hit by the debris, it destroyed his life signals monitor, punctured his suit, and him, but didn't do enough damage to kill him. That's the good news. The bad news is, he's stuck on Mars in a habitat that was designed to last a few months, tops, and he's going to have to live on Mars till the next mission arrives... in four years. He's got food that was designed to last six people about seventy days, so it should last him one year. The only chance to survive is if he grows food on Mars.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Vincent Kapoor, the Mars Mission Director, goes to Ted Sanders and asks for satellite time. He wants to check out the habitat to see how much is left, so that the next mission there can save a bit of money. That mission would also be there to get Mark Watney's body and return it home. However, when the first shots arrive, Mindy Park analyzes it and sees there's been movement. The rover moved. The only way that could have happened was if Mark Watney survived. Now, instead of picking up his body in a decade, they have to plan a rescue mission as fast as possible.

First of all... I admit I laughed a few times. This movie does have some funny moments, but it is not a comedy. I'm still annoyed that it gamed the system to win two Golden Globes. ... This might be the only complaint I have of the movie. It's not as good as Inside Out, but it might be the second best movie from 2015 I have seen so far. It's better than Mad Max: Fury Road, Age of Ultron, and The Force Awakens. Okay, one more complaint. I previously reviewed Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and one of the complaints I had with that movie was too many breakdowns of technology in one scene. This movie is all about overcoming obstacles. However, at least once it went from adding to the suspense to hurting the suspension of disbelief. Instead of being thrilled at this new development, I was just frustrated.

Besides those two minor complaints, The Martian is a near perfect movie. The story is fabulous with an excellent focus on the science and without any extraneous elements that most Hollywood films would shove into a script, like a romantic subplot or have the accident the result of an evil subcontractor who cut corners to save money. There's none of that here. The drama and tension comes from the situation and the ingenuity needed to solve the problem. Additionally, The Martian has one of the best casts of any movie I've seen all year. While Matt Damon is clearly the star of the movie, and he is amazing in this movie, he's not the only actor giving a stellar performance. There are tons of veteran actors, like Jeff Daniels, to newcomers like Mackenzie Davis, who are all fantastic.

Not only is the acting fantastic in The Martian, but the technical aspect was as well. Of the film's seven Oscar nominations, four of them are for technical categories. This could be the best looking and most realistic space program movie of all time. It looked amazing on Blu-ray and there were more than a few shots where I thought it would have been spectacular in 3D. Sadly, I only had 2D version of the movie. There's also a 4k version of the movie, but more on that down below.

Finally, I would like to praise the film for its diversity. A lot of films that focus on scientific endeavors tend to stuff their casts with the stereotypical movie scientist, older white guys. Unfortunately, this discourages those that don't fit this stereotype from going into science. Neil Degrasse Tyson talks about how people discouraged him from being a scientist, because people thought he didn't fit the mold of the average scientist. Then you look back in history and see all of the female scientists who made major discoveries only to be ignored because they were women. The scientist who discovered the nature of DNA was a woman, Rosalind Franklin. There's no telling how much further we would have advanced had so many women not been forced from entering science in the first place.

On a side note... Anyone else call Mark Watney, Mark Wheatley? Maybe I've just played too much Portal 2. Hmm... there's potatoes in both The Martian and Portal 2. And then there's Space Core and this movie takes place in space. Three things, Half-Life 3 confirmed. On a serious note, Valve is never making Half-Life 3, because the gaming community has become toxic and it just isn't worth the time and effort to make the game. Steam made about $500,000 during the most recent Winter Sale, just on a Winter Sale trading card. If you can make this much money with zero risk, why bother making a game when you know if it isn't perfect, the developers will get death threats as a result?

The Extras

There is no audio commentary track, but there are a number of featurettes. These start with Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction, a nine-minute featurette on the adapting of the novel into a movie. Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes is a 14-minute featurette on the cast, as well as some of the space suits. Up next is seven minutes of outtakes / behind-the-scenes. There is also a production gallery.

The rest of the extras are set within the world of the movie. For example, there's 17-minute "news" story on the Ares III mission disaster and the rescue mission. Neil Degrasse Tyson is featured in a promo for the Ares III mission. Overall, there are about 30 minutes of featurettes here.

I didn't get the 3D version or the 4K version, so I can't comment on the quality. Actually, I can talk about 4K. Don't bother. Here's a site that shows how big your TV has to be and how close you have to sit to be able to tell the difference in picture quality. However, if you sit too close to your TV and watch for too long (like for instance a two-hour movie) you risk hurting your neck. For the vast majority of the people out there, the two distances don't overlap at all. You either will be sitting too far away to tell the difference between 1080p and 4K, or you will be sitting too close to your TV.

As for the prices, the 4K version is the most expensive at $30, while the 3D version is $25. However, the Blu-ray and the DVD cost just $15. That's a great bargain for the Blu-ray.

The Verdict

The Martian is my favorite of the big-budget, live action films from 2015 that I've seen so far. Inside Out is still the best overall, but this is a fantastic movie. In fact, I just started watching the movie again. The extras on the DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, 3D Combo Pack, 4K Ultra Pack are not as good as the movie, but still enough to be a solid buy, perhaps even a contender for Pick of the Week.

Filed under: Video Review, The Martian, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Ridley Scott, Mackenzie Davis, Neil deGrasse Tyson