'The Martian' turned out to be one of my favorite films of last year, but I certainly didn't expect it to be so going into my first viewing. While I had not read the Andy Weir novel upon which the movie is based (and still haven't), I was pretty wary about the fact that Ridley Scott had been picked to helm the picture. While I'd never question Mr. Scott's technical abilities as a filmmaker, I've been less than satisfied by most of the movies he's directed over the past 20 or so years. I mean you're reading the words of a film critic who still doesn't understand all the fuss about Gladiator, which I still think is pretty mediocre.
Well, color me amazed. Not only is 'The Martian' a tremendous achievement for Ridley Scott and all involved, but there's a sense of lightheartedness and fun here (among dire circumstances to be sure) that I don't think has been present in any of Ridley's prior movies. Yes, a lot of that no doubt is due to Weir's novel (and the screenplay by Drew Goddard), but Mr. Scott should get a lot of credit as well. I don't know if this is Ridley's best movie ever, but it's got a strong argument for being his most crowd-pleasing.
The movie stars Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney, who gets stranded on the red planet when the remainder of the crew – believing he is dead – launches their rocket back towards Earth during a brutal Martian storm. Left behind, Watney much use his scientific knowledge to figure out a way to survive on Mars until a rescue mission can be mounted back at NASA. While most writers would have delved into the horrors of such a predicament, both Weir's book and Goodard's screenplay present Watney as a man of extreme exuberance. His intelligence is only matched by his sense of humor, and Damon is delightful in the role – a performance that won him the Golden Globe and got him nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
But Watney's dilemma makes up for only half the drama here. Back on Earth, a NASA team led by Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) must decide what – if anything – to do about Watney. One of the first decisions is not to tell the returning crew from Mars about him, as it would only prove to distract them on their return back home. Even more though, Sanders is forced to juggle the desire to rescue Watney with the very real limitations of both the scientific logistics of rescuing him and the budgetary abilities of NASA to do so. In any other movie by any other team of filmmakers, it would have been very easy to turn Daniels' character into a bad guy...giving the audience someone to root against. But 'The Martian' smartly avoids any familiar Hollywood tropes, allowing Sanders to be an extremely well-rounded and even sympathetic character that the audience can relate to, even if they don't always agree with the decisions he's making.
About the only thing that does seem 'Hollywood' about 'The Martian' is the final scenes in which Watney's rescue is performed (I hope it's not a spoiler...but did you really think they weren't going to rescue him?). Again, not having read the book, I'm not sure if the depiction here is accurate to the novel or exclusive to the screenplay, but there's a bit too many things that have to go precisely right that result in a climax that seems as much good luck as it does scientific ingenuity, which slightly dampers the theme of human innovation that runs throughout the movie. It's a nitpick to be sure, but after all the movie had put these characters though, I think it would made for a more realistic ending if the filmmakers had just allowed the rescue plan to go off without a hitch. It would have fit the anti-'Hollywood' feeling that so much of the movie had up until those final scenes.
This 'Extended Edition' of the movie (which also includes the theatrical version, meaning the prior release is no longer needed unless you bought the 3D version, which is not included here) provides roughly 10 more minutes of footage – the vast majority of which is just a few extra lines of dialogue or establishing shots here and there throughout. The movie is not any better or worse for the additional moments, and serves as just an alternate, slightly longer version of the movie rather than one that feels like a 'definitive cut' in any way.
But let there be no doubts: 'The Martian' is a wonderful movie, and quite possibly the best movie to be set on Mars that has ever graced the silver screen (sorry, Total Recall!). It's certainly the kind of movie that holds up to repeat viewings and even more than that – it's just so nice to see a film that embraces science the way this film does...proof that a movie can be both smart and an audience pleaser at the same time. This one's a winner.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Martian' lands on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly keepcase, which houses the two 50GB discs, one containing both the extended and theatrical versions of the movie (along with the new commentary track), and the other containing all the bonus materials (aside from the commentary track). Also inside the case is an insert containing a code for a digital copy of only the extended version of the movie (the flip side of the insert has an advertisement for 'The Martian' video game app). A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. There are no front-loaded trailers on either of the Blu-rays. The main menu (identical on both discs) is designed to look like a computer readout screen that might be used in this movie, with a montage of footage of the Martian landscape playing on it. Menu selections run across the bottom of the screen.
In addition to this release, 20th Century Fox has also released these same two Blu-rays and digital copy as part of an 4K Ultra HD release. This, of course, is in addition to the standard Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray version, and the standard version 4K Ultra HD that have already been released. Yes, this movie is less than a year old and it's already had five various home video releases.
Although the packaging is labeled for Region A, the Blu-ray is actually region-free.
'The Martian' features a new extended version on this release, but the scenes that are identical in the two cuts appear to be taken from the same transfer, and that transfer appears to be identical to the prior 2D release's video quality, so my prior thoughts about the Blu-ray transfer of 'The Martian' also apply here, and are as follows:
'The Martian' was shot digitally with both Red Epic Dragon and Red Scarlet Dragon digital equipment. The 'video diary' and other video camera shots seen in the movie made use of GoPro Hero4 equipment. The movie is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, which is just a tad opened up from its 2.35:1 theatrical presentation, although hardly discernable on home video (indeed, most 2.35:1 films get released at 2.40:1 on Blu-ray).
As Blu-ray transfers go, 'The Martian' is pretty impressive, with natural-looking skin tones and a level of depth and detail in almost every shot. I was worried that the deep oranges and browns of the Mars landscape would lead to either bleeding or banding on home video, but those shots look great here. Most of the other shots – both the interiors of the Mars base and the footage that takes place back on Earth has the teal/bluish look to it that so many movies these days seem to use as a color palette. Those shots look great as well, although it would have been nice if the scenes back on Earth had been a little warmer in tone – but there's no lack of detail to those parts. The only footage that suffers a bit is the footage you'd expect to – the scenes involving use of the GoPro cameras, which are part of Watney's video diaries and his communications back to Earth.
This all adds up to a transfer that's just short of reference quality, but wonderfully impressive nevertheless. Viewers won't be disappointed.
Although the new 4K Ultra HD extended cut release was given an upgrade in audio to Dolby Atmos, 20th Century Fox has not included that Atmos track on this Blu-ray release, sticking with the 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio that was featured on prior Blu-ray releases. My thoughts about the audio haven't changed, and were/are as follows:
The featured audio track here is a 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio that will really show off one's home theater and which I'm giving a reference-quality ranking. Not only is there noticeable and distinct separation for 'The Martian's more quiet moments, but some wonderful surround use and LFE booms during the movie's more action-packed sequences. Those disco tunes peppered throughout the movie sound pretty great too, for the record. While dialogue is primarily front and center, it's clearly rendered and – thankfully – mixed properly with the rest of the track. This is some fantastic sounding audio, and even though it's quite early in the year, I doubt we're going to get a much better sounding release in 2016 than 'The Martian'.
In addition to the 7.1 lossless track, the Blu-ray also contains a 5.1 English Descriptive track (for the theatrical version only), as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish and French. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, Spanish, and French. There are also English, Spanish, and French subtitles available for the commentary track.
One of my favorite films of 2015, 'The Martian' is a winner not only because of the sense of joy and wonderment it provides viewers, but because it's one of the few Hollywood releases that unashamedly promotes science and doesn't fall into the typical Hollywood trappings of insisting on having a 'bad guy" to root against. This Extended Edition release, which still includes the theatrical version plus a ton of new bonus materials (in addition to the previously released stuff), has now become the must-have home video release of this movie (unless you have a 4K set-up, and then that Extended Edition release is!). This is a must-own title.