The Martian (Fox, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD) comes to disc with two Golden Globe wins, and despite the dubious categorization of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, it is neither a comedy nor a musical (despite the disco soundtrack—don’t ask). It is the rare science fiction drama that is actually built on applied physics and engineering and organic chemistry and where survival depends on creative problem solving and teamwork across millions of miles. This is a film that celebrates the triumph of intelligence and drive and, in its own way, it’s a true frontier adventure.
Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, American astronaut on the first manned mission to Mars, stranded after a sudden storm sends the crew scrambling for lift-off. They think he’s been killed in the maelstrom, due mishap and mechanical failure, and he wakes up for find himself stranded on a planet without a breathable atmosphere and no return trip scheduled for a years. Watney is the mission botanist, which is useful in masterminding a way to grow food and produce oxygen and water, but that’s just one issue. As he explains in his regular video diary entries, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” It’s no spoiler to say he does. Meanwhile, after he jury-rigs a primitive communications beacon to contact earth, NASA scrambles to find a way to bring him home and his crewmates (led by mission commander Jessica Chastain) on the long journey back home are faced with some hard choices.
What makes the film compelling is how director Ridley Scott makes his practical engineering so thrilling in its way, and how Damon’s easygoing warmth humanizes the ordeal. Those video diaries are a storytelling convention to be sure, an effective way to allow our castaway to communicate without restoring to voice over or talking to himself like a dotty madman, but they also show his loneliness, his isolation, his need to communicate, even if it’s with an audience that will ultimately view his entries as a posthumous legacy.
Drew Goddard (director of The Cabin in the Woods and screenwriter of World War Z), adapting the novel by Andy Weir, manages to make the science understandable (or at least relatable) and the teamwork palpable, and he sketches personalities for the increasingly expanding cast in quick strokes as the team—or rather teams—work together to solve each successive problem. There are crises along the way but nothing that feels contrived simply to grind out a cliffhanger and Scott finds a majesty in what could be mundane detail thanks to his masterful use of location (the desolation of the red-hued Mars is just alien enough to carry a threat in every shot) and treatment of his characters, all committed and talented people but never superhuman. This is an interplanetary survival story on a human level and a film that celebrates science and knowledge and collective effort. That’s admirable, of course, but it’s also involving and satisfying and genuinely inspiring, an epic story told with an intergalactic scope and an intimate focus.
The excellent cast also includes Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mackenzie Davis, and Donald Glover.
The discs include two production featurettes (“Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction” and “Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes”) that run under 25 minutes combines, plus a gallery of stills and production art and a collection of faux documentaries and mock commercials from the future in which the film is set. The Blu-ray editions also feature a bonus Digital HD copy of the film.
Reviews of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 (Kino Lorber / Carlotta, Blu-ray+DVD), a magnificent 13-disc box set, Wim Wenders’ s The American Friend (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), featuring a newly restored digital master from Wenders’s own production company, and Giuseppe De Santis’ 1949 Bitter Rice (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) starring Vittorio Gassman and Silvano Mangano, follow in separate posts.
Also new and notable:
Irrational Man (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD), Woody Allen’s latest, stars Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone.
The Look of Silence (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD), Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Killing, explores the Indonesian genocide and the culture that justifies it from another angle
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Available on Cable and Digital VOD same day as select theaters nationwide are the comedies Moonwalkers with Ron Perlman and Rupert Grint and A Perfect Day with Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins and the thriller The Benefactor with Dakota Fanning, Theo James, and Richard Gere.
Available for digital purchase in advance of disc:
Black Mass (Warner, Digital HD)
Meet the Patels (Alchemy, Digital HD)
The Last Witch Hunter (Lionsgate, Digital HD)
Burnt (Anchor Bay, Digital HD) Friday, January 15
Classics and Cult:
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (RLJ, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
The Devil Wears Prada: 10th Anniversary Edition (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Mosquito Man (Big Screen, DVD)
How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy (Kino Lorber, DVD)
Figures in a Landscape (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Knack, and How to Get It (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
How I Won the War (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
The Bed Sitting Room (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Bolero / Ghosts Can’t Do It (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
TV on disc:
Mr. Robot: Season One (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Togetherness: The Complete First Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Girls: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD)
Maison Close: Season Two (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hill Street Blues: The Final Season (Shout! Factory, DVD)
More new releases:
Hotel Transylvania 2 (Sony, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD)
Sinister 2 (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Stanford Prison Experiment (MPI, Blu-ray, DVD)
Memories of the Sword (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
In the Basement (Strand, DVD)
Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD)
Uncle John (Kino Lorber, DVD)
Fear No Fruit (Kino Lorber, DVD)
The Clearstream Affair (First Run, DVD)
The Looking Glass (First Run, DVD)
Making Rounds (First Run, DVD)
The Image Revolution (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Contracted: Phase 2 (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Howl (Alchemy, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)