Release Date(s)2016 (June 7, 2016)
Studio(s)Scott Free/Kinberg Genre (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, The Martian opens on the surface of the Red Planet in the midst of NASA’s near-future Ares III space mission. Six astronauts are busy exploring the terrain, gathering samples, and doing scientific research, when an unexpectedly strong dust storm overtakes their landing site. Forced to abort the mission, they’re struggling through worsening conditions to reach their MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) when one of them, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is struck by flying debris and falls out of contact. Believing him dead, the rest of the crew escapes into orbit and begins the journey back to Earth. But, unknown to them, Mark is still alive. With a great deal of luck, ingenuity, and scientific knowledge, he’s determined to stay that way until he can be rescued. When NASA discovers this, they rally their best minds together – as only NASA can and with the whole world behind them – determined to bring Mark home.
The original Weir novel is almost the perfect template for a Hollywood film. What it lacked in prose, it more than made up for in genuine and honestly written humor, heart, and a keen effort towards scientific accuracy. The genius of the novel is that Weir puts us inside Watney’s head, offering us a window on his running monologue of thoughts in situations good, bad, and absurd. The genius of Drew Goddard’s script adaptation, is that he has Watney recording many of those same thoughts on screen via a kind of GoPro-inspired video log for the team back at NASA. Not every beloved scene in the novel carries over to the screen (notably an incident in which Watney rolls his rover), but this is true of any such adaptation. And of course, no filmmaker is more uniquely capable and experienced in building epic and cinematic science fiction worlds than Ridley Scott. One almost can’t imagine a novel, and a script, more well suited to Scott’s talents than this. It’s nearly fool-proof.
The film’s casting is spot-on. Matt Damon is exactly the right actor to play Watney. He’s believable as both an everyman in an extraordinary situation and a highly capable NASA scientist. The rest of the Ares III cast delivers too, including Jessica Chastain as the mission’s no-nonsense commander. Back on Earth, the unlikely ensemble of Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, and others absolutely shines as space agency administrators, engineers, directors, and mission controllers fighting to save Watney’s life. Really, the only other way this project could have gone wrong would have been if all the little nuances of spaceflight – the accuracy to real NASA engineering concepts and scientific details – had been Hollywood-fudged. Fortunately, NASA consulted with the filmmakers wholeheartedly, so almost every aspect of the production – from the spacecraft, to the suits, gear, and even the surface of Mars itself – rings true, or at least true enough. (The lack of concern for radiation in space is an issue, as is the fact that dust storms could never actually get that strong on Mars, and that the Hermes is roomier than you’d ever see on a real spacecraft, but these are all nitpicks.) And really, why wouldn’t NASA want to participate? The Martian is to the space agency what Top Gun was to the U.S. Navy back in the 1980s. In the end, the result is this: Ridley Scott’s The Martian rightly takes its place alongside Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Philip Kauffman’s The Right Stuff, and Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (and to a lesser extent Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity) as one of the best and most realistic films about manned spaceflight ever made.
The previous Theatrical Cut of this film ran 141 minutes. The new Extended Cut is 151 minutes long… and that might not seem like a big difference. In fact, there’s really only one new full scene. Most of what you get are little scene extensions, additional character moments, an additional line of dialogue or two here and there. But you’d be surprised how much they add up. The character moments especially really enhance the drama. Moment that were already powerful or human in the Theatrical Cut now have a little more room to breathe, making them just a little bit more powerful and human. There’s also a greater sense of the scale of Mars itself. There are more quick establishing and mood shots of the landscape and Watney within it. You see Watney working to extend the range of his rover, you see a bit more of his journey to the Ares IV landing site late in the film. There’s a quick scene from the book where you see Watney cleaning himself up in an inflatable tent during his rover journey. You see Watney ingeniously testing the airtight integrity of his HAB canvas repairs. NASA’s fateful supply launch is now a bit more tense. You also see a little more of the NASA team back on Earth, and more of the Hermes crew as well – mostly it’s just little character moments, but again they add up. There’s the funny moment where the NASA people talk about Mark’s use of profanity in his messages – you actually learn what that profanity was now (it’s only implied in the Theatrical Cut). What’s more, the new scene is actually pretty terrific: After the supply launch fails, and Watney is grappling with the fact that he now knows he’s probably going to die, NASA is surprised to learn that he’s completing the original mission objectives. Watney has determined that if he’s going to die, he’s going to give his death meaning and so he’s working to finish all the crew’s abandoned experiments. That tells you a lot about who Watney is and what motivates him, but it also rings completely true to the way NASA astronauts are in real life. Again, while all of these additions may seem minor when looked upon individually, the sum total is an even more satisfying viewing experience that the original version. I think fans of the novel will especially appreciate these additions.
You’ll be pleased to know that actual 4K Ultra HD disc here includes both the Theatrical Cut and the new Extended Edition. The video quality is virtually identical to the previous 4K Ultra HD release of the Theatrical Edition (which I’ve reviewed here), so refer to that review for the details. However, the real surprise is that both versions of the film now include new English Dolby Atmos audio mixes. The quality and clarity of the previous BD and 4K discs’ 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix remains, but where the Atmos really shines is in the “vertical” channels. Once the dust storm kicks in, you really start to hear the activity overhead. The launch sequences also benefit from the vertical extension, but even in more quiet moments you can hear subtle wind and creaking. I wouldn’t say the difference is massive, but it’s enough to take the audio grade from the A I gave the Theatrical Blu-ray and 4K sound to an A+ here. Note that audio is also available in English 5.1 Descriptive Audio (on the Theatrical Cut only), and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), Spanish, and French. The only extra on the 4K disc is a good one: At last, you get the long-awaited feature-length audio commentary with director Ridley Scott, screenwriter Drew Goddard, and novelist Andy Weir. It appears that Scott was recorded separately from the writers, but their comments cut together well enough and there’s a great deal of interesting information offered from both sides. In a nice touch, there are optional subtitles available for the commentary in English, French, and Spanish.
Disc One of the included Blu-ray offers both the Theatrical Cut and the Extended Edition via seamless branching, each with English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Additional audio options include English 5.1 Descriptive Audio (on the Theatrical Cut only), and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), Spanish, and French. You also get the same audio commentary with Scott, Goddard, and Weir (and again there are optional subtitles for the commentary too in English, French, and Spanish).
Disc Two of the Blu-ray includes all the rest of the bonus content, much of it new and all of it in HD. First up are a trio of quick Deleted Scenes (4:06) that weren’t added back into the Extended Edition but are still worth checking out (including what is essentially an alternate ending to the film with voice over). The highlight of the disc is the new 6-part feature-length documentary on the making of the film, The Long Way Home: Making the Martian (79:21). Produced by longtime Ridley Scott documentarian Charles de Lauzirika, this piece covers damn near every aspect of the production. It incudes Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction (11:08), The Bleeding Edge: Science and Design (11:59), Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes (14:13), Three Worlds Away: Production – Hungary and Jordan (14:16), Wrath of the Red Planet: Stunts and Action (10:14), and Bringing Him Home: Post-Production (17:44). I don’t want to say too much about this content, because I think the segment titles speak for themselves. But I will say that, as something of a lay expert on the subject of human spaceflight history and technology, I found the experience of watching this documentary deeply satisfying. It’s not as exhaustive as some of Lauzirika’s past documentaries, but it really does at least touch upon virtually everything you’d want to see more closely and learn more about.
There’s also some great additional material here that examines the reality of Mars exploration. Dare Mighty Things: NASA’s Journey to Mars (14:47) is a nice look at the latest science on the Red Planet and NASA’s current vehicles and plans for a future manned journey (hopefully, in the 2030s, though it’s worth noting that – at that pace – SpaceX is likely to beat them). The Journey to Mars 101 (2:02:18) is actually a record of a fun event held at Fox Studios back in February. I had the pleasure of attending this event, which was co-sponsored by NASA, JPL, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Planetary Society (you can read my report on it here). It’s split into three parts, each a record of a different panel discussion held that day. It begins with NASA’s Journey to Mars (47:41), which is moderated by novelist Andy Weir, and features ISS Expedition 44/45 astronaut Kjell Lindgren, NASA lead scientist for Mars Exploration Programs Michael Meyer, NASA JPL Mars Mission Manager Jennifer Trosper, and NASA’s Program Executive for Solar System Exploration Dave Lavery as they discuss what’s actually needed to make a Mars mission possible. It continues with Living on Mars and Beyond (48:13), which is moderated by Bill Nye the Science Guy and also the CEO of the Planetary Society. It features the Tom Kalil who is the Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, former NASA chief technologist Mason Peck, MIT’s Director of The Center for Bits and Atoms Neil Gershenfeld, and former DARPA biotechnologies scientist Alicia Jackson as they talk about what it will take to establish a permanent human presence on Mars. Finally, Why Science Fiction Inspires Me (26:23) is moderated by Adam Savage of Mythbusters, and features a discussion with Weir, Scott, and Goddard. If you suspect that what’s discussed during these panels is serious hardcore nerdity, you’re absolutely right… and it’s absolutely fantastic. This is spaceflight science way beyond the level of anything you’d see on the Discovery channel and, if you’re really into this stuff, it’s utter wonderful to watch. This section also includes Ridley Scott Discusses NASA’s Journey to Mars (1:31), which appears to be a PSA that Scott recorded for NASA TV.
The remainder of the extras here include material found on the original The Martian Blu-ray (reviewed here), starting with the Gag Reel (7:33). There’s a collection of “in-universe” Ares Mission Videos (30:32 in all), including Ares III: Farewell (3:35), The Right Stuff (3:20), Ares: Our Greatest Adventure (3:39 – which features astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson), Bring Him Home (1:34), and Leave Your Mark (1:03). You’ve probably already seen these on YouTube, as they were used to promote the film’s theatrical release. The previous Production Art Gallery is here too (if you watch all the images, it’s about 17 minutes worth of auto-advancing material) that shows concept art for the film’s Hermes, Mars, and Earth settings. Finally, the disc includes 4 Theatrical Trailers for the film (11:09 in all – the previous BD only included one): A, B, G, and R, for those of you keeping score. There’s also a paper insert with a Digital Copy code that appears to offer the Extended Edition in HD.
Obviously, this package doesn’t include the Theatrical Cut or the Extended Edition in Blu-ray 3D. I understand why some fans would be upset by the lack of 3D here, but I don’t think it detracts from the quality of this special edition. However, given that this set does include all of the previous Blu-ray bonus content, you can simply take the Theatrical Cut Blu-ray 3D disc from that old set, put it in a paper sleeve and tuck it into the case here and you have everything that’s available.
[Editor’s Note: Given that nearly all 4K releases are multi-disc sets, with the extras often included on separate BD discs, our extras grades for these 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray reviews will reflect the bonus content across all discs in the set.]
The original Theatrical Cut of The Martian was arguably Ridley Scott’s best work in a decade, since perhaps his director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. This new Extended Cut makes that work even better. For my own part, I think this may now be my favorite Ridley Scott film. And I certainly don’t say that lightly. I love the texture and tension of Alien and the visual poetry of Blade Runner. They’re two of my all time favorite sci-fi films. But I don’t actually consider The Martian science fiction. This is the kind of film a director can only really make after a long career of honing his or her craft. Scott’s past films about the future were way ahead of their time. Now that future is here, and he’s made a film about it that’s not at all flashy, but is visually, tonally, and authentically more perfect than any other similar effort to date… and I actually think that makes it a more impressive achievement. With The Martian: Extended Edition, Scott’s forward-looking creative impulse has reached its fullest, truest expression yet. And it’s thrilling.
- Bill Hunt