One of the genuine surprises of cinema in 2015 was undoubtedly Ridley Scott’s 'The Martian'. After many years of underwhelming (if superbly made) misfires, lacking the great director’s trademark energy and attention to detail, this unexpectedly joyous film burst across cinema screens and enchanted audiences with a kind of hopefulness that had long been missing in science fiction cinema. This week, we get a look at the extended version of this instantly classic film on Blu-ray, adding further detail and character to a film already brimming with it.
Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) has been left for dead on the surface of Mars after a freak accident. While a team of scientists back on Earth are racing against the clock to find a way to bring him home, Mark has to use all the science and intelligence at his disposal to remain alive long enough to be rescued. It sounds like a set-up not dissimilar to ‘Gravity’, ‘The Martian’ replaces that film’s exquisite tension with totally unexpected and genuine humour, showcasing the tremendous comic skills of Damon, Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard. Mark could have been a brooding protagonist wrestling with his mortality, but while this is certainly a subtext bubbling under ever nuanced moment of Damon’s superb performance, what drives Mike is an overwhelmingly positive attitude, a love of problem solving and a belief in the integrity of science. ‘The Martian’ is a series of problems needing to be solved, and no matter how insurmountable they are or the setbacks that pop up along the way, our hero and his support team back home approach every one of them with enthusiasm. If anything, ‘The Martian’ is an enormous testament to the human spirit and imagination.
The film combines Scott and his established team of remarkable artists with one of the finest ensembles assembled of late, every performance as terrific as the next. Because of this, ‘The Martian’ ends up showcasing one of Scott’s most under-appreciated skills as a director - his ability to bring great performances out of actors. While the film is a visual and technical triumph, all of this plays as support to the characters and the story, and Scott’s tremendous skill and care with them are a startling reminder that he is still one of the finest directors in the world.
Many of Scott’s films have been followed by extended cuts, but while they occasionally surpass the original cut to become greater films (such as with ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’), mostly they just end up including interesting yet inconsequential new material. ‘The Martian’ falls into the latter, but while the 10 minutes of new footage doesn’t add much more than extra character beats for Mark, it certainly doesn’t disrupt the carefully calibrated rhythms of the theatrical cut. In no way is this new version a vital "director's cut", but it doesn’t detract from an already superb film either.
‘The Martian’ is a sublime film, joyous from beginning to end. I’ve revisited it many times since I first saw it at the cinema, and each time I still find myself riveted to it, often with an enormous smile on my face. Along with ‘Gravity’ and ‘Interstellar’, it completes a trilogy of astounding modern space films, ones that celebrate the human spirit through three distinct cinematic voices. This is Ridley Scott’s finest film since the directors cut of ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, the kind of film we didn’t even know he was capable of making anymore. ‘The Martian’ is a triumph from beginning to end.
‘The Martian’ is a sublime film, joyous from beginning to end.
PICTURE & SOUND
Video and audio with this extended cut set are basically the same as the original Blu-ray release of the theatrical cut, and while this is mostly a good thing, it also has twinges of disappointment. The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer is still a marvel, crystal clear and gorgeously rendered, but while the DTS-HD MA 7.1 track is still absolutely superb, it’s a pity not to have a Dolby Atmos track to give the set extra value. this track would have made the set even more appealing. In the U.S., the Ultra 4K release does feature Atmos, but that has yet to be announced for Australia. At this stage, there is no 3D release of the extended version.
The key drawcard of this set, moreso than the extended cut, is the more extensive collection of extras than were included on the original release. Once again, acclaimed film documentarian Charles de Lauzirika produces terrific behind-the-scenes material, the chief of which is the feature-length documentary ‘The Long Way Home: Making The Martian’ (1:19:21). While it isn’t as long and intricate as other documentaries for Scott’s films, it does provide a comprehensive and detailed look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with almost every major player. Even more extensive is ‘The Journey To Mars 101’ (2:02:18), a panel discussion with both the filmmakers and NASA staff about the film and its correlation with actual science. ‘Dare Mighty Things: Nasa’s Journey to Mars’ (14:47) and ‘Ridley Scott Discusses NASA’s Journey to Mars’ (1:31) expand on this discussion, looking at NASA’s plans for reaching Mars in the near future. Rounding off the new material are commentaries from Scott and Goddard (who is strangely absent from the documentary) and novelist Andy Weir on both cuts, a series of deleted scenes (4:26) and an extensive collection of theatrical trailers (11:09).
In a very clever move, the set also includes the theatrical cut and all the special features from the original disc (apart from the ones subsumed into the main documentary), an excellent decision that makes this release of ‘The Martian’ closer to being definitive.
The Martian: Extended Edition lands on Blu-ray & DVD on the 24th August 2016.