Review: The Martian
My daughter’s final project for her eighth-grade Honors English class was to do a nine-page research paper on a subject of her choosing, and she chose, “Why we should attempt to colonize Mars and what it would take to do so.” As a reward for her completion—and 98% grade—we decided to let her watch The Martian, available on 4K Blu-ray disc and for full-resolution download from Kaleidescape.
When you hear the name Ridley Scott in the same sentence as “science fiction,” you likely think about films like Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus, but The Martian is definitely not your typical Ridley Scott glimpse into the future. In fact, I’d call it far more science fact than science fiction as much of the science, technology, and solutions shown in the film are not only
plausible but were praised as believable from NASA as well as the world’s most famous astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Besides the engrossing story—which easily holds your interest for its entire 144-minute runtime—The Martian is powered by an incredible array of big-name talent. Besides lead/stranded astronaut Mark Watney played by Matt Damon, you get the rest of his crew aboard the Hermes, including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie, along with NASA and JPL ground support, which includes Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, and Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover. Seriously, this is about the single biggest star-studded film I can think of, with major talent in every role. What that means is that you get real performances from every part.
Also, unusual for a Scott film is the amount of humor
THE MARTIAN AT A GLANCE
This Matt Damon-centric exercise in alien-world problem-solving shows surprising humor for a Ridley Scott film and features reference-quality video in the 4K HDR download.
Although the transfer is taken from a 2K DI, images have incredible focus, depth, and dimensionality, almost having a 3D quality.
The Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack is so incredibly immersive and active it’s worth the purchase price on its own.
throughout. Damon spends the vast majority of the film alone, and much of his performance is communicating information to viewers through recorded messages that are laced with smart humor, including lines like “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m only faced with one option. I’m going to have to science the sh— out of this.” There is also an appropriate amount of nerd refs sprinkled throughout that will appeal to many.
Based on the 2011 novel by Andy Weir, The Martian is all about problem solving—essentially finding out how to complete a virtually impossible series of tasks in order to get from A to Z to survive. But each task and action involves doing things where you could literally die at any moment if a single thing goes wrong out of hundreds of things that could potentially go wrong. As Watney says, “If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.”
I’m a Damon fan, and I think it’s his charisma and likability that help propel and make the story so interesting. You can’t help but root for Watney as he just continually works through problems, persevering and surviving regardless of the odds. Similar to how Tom Hanks carried Castaway, Damon holds this movie on his shoulders, and does a damn fine job of it.
As packed with science and technology as the film is, the plot is simple. In the opening moments, a group of astronauts is hit by a sudden, violent wind storm on Mars which threatens to tip their launch vehicle. When returning to the ship, Watney is impaled by an antenna, which severs his suit’s bio-monitor equipment, leaving the remainder of the crew to think him dead. In order to save the ship—and remainder of the crew—Commander Lewis (Chastain) orders the ship to launch.
After Watney awakens, he takes an inventory of food and supplies where he discovers he has enough food for approximately 400 sols, meaning he needs to figure out a way to grow three years’ worth in order to survive the nearly four years until the next scheduled Mars landing.
The movie moves forward following parallel stories of Watney figuring out how to survive along with attempting to re-establish contact, NASA and JPL crews on the ground tracking his progress and figuring out how they can attempt to save him, and the crew aboard the Hermes dealing with the fact that they left a teammate behind. Along the way, there is plenty of drama and tension in the form of the various setbacks and near-death experiences Watney faces, along with his ingenious problem-solving skills.
While shot in a combination of 4K and 6K resolutions, the home video transfer is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, which honestly surprised me a bit because the picture quality is so fantastic, sharp, and full of detail throughout that I was all but positive it was a 4K DI. This is a case where the numbers don’t tell the story, and I found the video quality from the Kaleidescape 4K HDR download to be reference quality.
Images have incredible focus, depth, and dimensionality, almost having a 3D quality, and looked fantastic on my 115-inch screen via a JVC NX7 projector. Beyond that, they are so incredibly clean, with razor-sharp edges, they have an almost glossy quality in parts. Throughout, I was impressed by the gorgeous visuals, allowing you to revel in every pixel of detail
and texture, such as the minute details in the design and construction of the astronauts’ suits, where you can see the stitching, webbing, and layers of detail.
The color palette shifts between the distinct look on Mars—dusty reds and oranges; the Hermes—modern and sleek whites and blacks of space; and Earth. The resolution and HDR really help the many computer screens aboard the Hermes and NASA to pop, with the detail being so sharp you can read the tiny text on monitors in mission control. You also get bright gleaming ships and the pop of spacesuits against the black of space, or the bright pops of searchlights, along with nice deep shadows and detail. Further, the wider color gamut offered by HDR creates deeply saturated, punchy, and lifelike images.
Even more exciting is the Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack, which is incredibly immersive and active, and worth the purchase price on its own. Whether it is big, dynamic moments like the sounds of dust and debris pelting you during a Martian wind storm, the groans and creaks inside Watney’s hab as it rocks in the storm, the in-rush of air during pressurization, or a multitude of little mechanical noises in ships, the sound mix constantly places you in the action. Even in scenes at NASA or JPL, you can hear the sound of jets or helicopters flying off in the distance. I’d previously watched The Martian at home on its original Blu-ray release, which did
not include the Atmos audio mix, and have to say that as good as that was, the Atmos audio steps things up a notch.
There aren’t a lot of moments where deep bass is called on, but there are a few such as the opening storm and the rocket launch where you get some nice tactile bass you can feel in your seat. Dialogue is the most important sound element in the film, and it is well presented and intelligible throughout.
I love The Martian and can’t recommend it enough. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an absolute no-brainer. And if you have seen it, but never at home in 4K HDR with Atmos, it’s definitely worth revisiting as the film looks and sounds fantastic, has a compelling story, and boasts an incredible cast. This is one of those films I love having in my collection as it is a perfect go-to when visitors come over and I am looking for something to watch with a group.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.