By Ranny Levy – Founder/President of KidsFirst!
This 2015 space odyssey delivers an emotional survival story filled with humor and love Matt Damon’s performance really steals the show and the direction by Ridley Scott is perhaps his best in years. Based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, we are drawn in by the humanness of the situation when Astronaut Mark Watney is left behind by his crew and finds himself stranded and alone on a hostile planet. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “The sheer message and theme of this movie and the way they’re presented is what gives this movie its greatness. It’s a movie that explores the human condition and has something positive to say about it.” Keefer B. adds, “This film executes this kind of story in a novel way… Not only is it a captivating scenario that keeps you on the edge of your seat but, the protagonist is incredibly likable and complex.” See their full reviews below.
By Willie J, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16
Ridley Scott turns in his finest film since Blade Runner.The Martian is such a touching film, that its flaws can be easily overlooked and forgotten. The sheer message and theme of this movie and the way they’re presented is what gives this movie its greatness. It’s a movie that explores the human condition and has something positive to say about it. We need that in today’s cinema and I thank the cast and crew of this movie for giving us this gem. It’s an experience worth having.
The Martian stars Matt Damon in one of his career best performances as an astronaut who gets stuck on Mars when his teams leaves him behind, thinking he’s dead after he is struck by debris in the middle of a storm. When he is able to get in touch with NASA, their higher-ups and a few other organizations, rally up to rescue him. I have to tell you that is NOT like Gravity. It is not a one-man show, though Damon does have significant screen time. There is an entire supporting ensemble that provides serviceable and strong performances. And yet, despite the acting of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, and Michael Peña, Matt Damon does steal the show. He is very committed with every character choice and really inhabits the man he’s portraying. Damon doesn’t layer him with underlying sadness or anxiety, instead he shows us the determination of a man who has weighed his options, and has chosen to do something about his situation. Towards the end, when he finally breaks down, it hits us harder. We get choked up seeing this person who has stayed strong for so long and then finally lets out what he’s been holding back. It’s a powerful thing.
Secondly, the film has an amazing tone. With a soundtrack filled with Gloria Gaynor, ABBA, and David Bowie, the fun of this movie won’t go understated. The soundtrack compliments the numerous comedic moments that come at a rate that could have this film labeled as a sci-fi comedy. It is funny and entertaining and will have you dancing or humming along. It’s good Scott gave this movie this tone because it matches the lasting message he wants us to have – that even though the situation is bad, a combination of survival instincts and intelligence can get us through it. And, with the love and care of others, a seemingly insurmountable situation becomes surmountable.
I’ll tell you my favorite part. There is a moment in the movie when NASA is having trouble getting supplies to our protagonist and the issues are being broadcast. A major science organization is watching it from China, and they decide to help out NASA. There are no hard feelings, ill will, prideful rejections or rivalries going on. The Chinese organization asks for nothing in return. It is just two organization banning together for the same cause. It is beautiful and speaks volumes, especially considering the public perception of American-Chinese relations.
Now there are those who may say that the tone demeans the more dramatic moments, but I disagree. The dramatic moments in this movie aren’t really all that dramatic anyway. They’re more like lighthearted drama if anything. There is one moment in the movie in which we abruptly and rather un-smoothly get shown the inevitable “problem” within the film. The Debbie Downer that the protagonist must overcome to make his victory that much sweeter. I’ll admit, it isn’t presented in the best way, but that’s not the most dramatic part of the film. That comes at the time our main character believes he’s about to go home. That moment is built not by the tone of the film, but by the performance of Matt Damon.
As a matter of fact, the only criticism other than the aforementioned is the pacing of the movie. It’s about 10 minutes too long. There are many throwaway scenes, scenes that aren’t necessary and could be done without whether because they’re repetitive, or just get in the way of Scott getting to his point quicker and more effectively. The problems ensue towards the end as well, when the pacing suffers and so does the tension. It is so close to being what it should have been, but I wasn’t hanging on as much as I could or should have. That’s because of the moment of comedic relief that is added and the same with many of the scenes I mentioned. There are some scenes that are necessary, or helpful, but could be trimmed down.
Nonetheless, the flaws are minor and able to be overlooked. The Martian is still one of the best movies of this decade. With that said, I give this movie 5 out 5 stars and, due to some surprisingly frequent language, I recommend it for ages 13 to 18. It opens October 2 at a theater near you. Please go see it.
By Keefer C. Blakeslee, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15
This is a brilliant film sprinkled with surprising wit and cleverness. Based on the acclaimed book of the same name by Andy Weir, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is an astronaut that is left on Mars after an emergency evacuation. Presumed dead, Watney survives but has a limited amount of food and water so he must use his intelligence and spirit to get back in contact with NASA and return home.
I went into this film with no previous history with the story. Personally I love films about survival. Whether it’s in space or on a desert island, I enjoy stories about how a character uses their human instincts to survive. This film executes this kind of story in a novel way. It’s unique from other space survival films, like Gravity and Apollo 13, because the protagonist is not in the vacuum of space but actually on a planet that is unlivable. He has to adapt to the harshness of the planet to stay alive. Not only is it a captivating scenario that keeps you on the edge of your seat but, the protagonist is incredibly likable and complex.
Matt Damon’s charm is perhaps the best part of the film. Watney, of course, has his low points but he gives wise cracks about his problems, almost looking at the situation from a satirical way. One might say it’s a sign of him descending into madness but it’s what keeps him alive. Groucho Marx once said, “Humor is reason gone mad,” and, in this case, he is right. Only a mad person would see the odds stack against him and still try to pull off, what many think is the impossible. So, he’s not spitting wise cracks just to amuse himself but to fuel his insanity to keep pushing through. Not only is he my favorite character in the film but after careful observation he maybe one of my favorite characters in general.
I have to mention the stunning cinematography done by Dariusz Wolski. Wolski has recently worked with director Ridley Scott on Exodus: Gods and Kings and Prometheus. In this third collaboration with Scott he has created this desolate and visually beautiful Mars. I watched this film in 3D / IMAX and, even if you don’t catch this film in 3D it still feels like you are transported into Mars and space.
The message of this film projects is that “if there is a problem, you figure out a way to solve it until it’s over.” Watney faces many obstacles in the beginning – the chance of starvation, dehydration, dealing with Mar’s deadly atmosphere, lack of oxygen and no way to communicate with Earth. What does Wateny do? He tries to figure out a solution for each problem. That goes back to the insanity quality I mentioned previously. Perseverance is another admirable quality of this character. That “If I’m going to die, I’m gonna die trying” attitude gives us all the more reason to root for him and his return to Earth.
I easily give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to 14- through 18-year-olds.
There is the use of the F word twice in the film, the rest are muted or mouthed. Also this film goes on for a while and, to be honest, younger audiences may get bored at some points. If you have the opportunity to see this film, I highly recommend it. What a great way to continue the fall films!! It opens in theaters October 2nd