Double take: The Martian (2015) and Enemy Mine (1985)

A return of the double-take format, this time with a science fiction bonanza, a modern-realistic-slick-flick and an 80’s hidden gem.

The Martian (2015) – Ridley Scott

Missed it!

It happened again. The year is 2015. I like going to the cinema. Ridley Scott is among of my favorite directors. I like science-fiction. I like Mars.
I see this movie is coming out soon, naturally I would want to see it. I say to myself that I probably will go.
And I didn’t… That should really give me a lesson, I missed out on a lot of great movies.

Anyway I finally saw this film a few years after its theatrical release. And I enjoyed it.

The Potato Man

It has quite a long run-time but it’s not boring (which is a good sign).
As usual with Ridley Scott the visuals are a delight. Gorgeous vistas on Mars. The ships, the base on mars and vehicles are very realistic and CGI are well integrated.
A lot happens in this movie, events unfold quite rapidly but always smoothly. Transitions between places or even periods are frequent, but I never got lost or confused.
On the soundtrack side, nothing significant to say, it did the job, maybe a tad overuse of pop songs.
Matt Damon does great here, a lot of the movie he’s by himself on the screen and he just delivers a compelling performance.
The supporting cast is also very good (though there are a LOT of characters here), and it’s filled with top-notch actors.
You don’t spend a lot of time with Mark Watney’s crew, but the actors are charismatic and do well with the little exposure they have.
I really enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor (that man can do everything), and Jeff Daniels’ stoic portrayal of the no-nonsense director of NASA.

The Ghost of Mars

What I would describe as the shortcomings are maybe inherent to the story itself. It’s a movie about positivity, the triumph of the human spirit and defying insurmontable odds.
But that’s also a bit of an issue. Even though problems keep appearing, things just go too well in the end.
The lack of truly tragic moments means the movie doesn’t really convey the ruthlessness of space travel.

I would make a comparison with Apollo 13, a movie I also like a lot, with similar themes. If I was mean I’d say this movie is Apollo 13 on steroids mixed with Cast Away.
In Apollo 13, the mission failed. The three astronauts lived, but Jim Lovell could not walk on the moon, and it was devastating to him, because he came so close and knew he probably would not have another chance.
In The Martian there’s not a real sense of loss. Apart from losing time (which seems not to take much toll on anyone, except on Watney’s physical health, he’s barely shown breaking down from his ordeal), everything seems to be a success.
Not much is spent focusing on Mark Watney’s mental state throughout the whole thing. Characterization is not prevalent, but I guess it would have taken a lot more run time.
I agree this is nitpicking. I probably respond to tragedy better now than I’m older.
I like Apollo 13 more, the “true story” side of it helps greatly, and I think the story it narrates has more nuance.

But this is definitely worth a watch. Ridley rarely mucks it up.

Enemy Mine (1985) – Wolfgang Petersen

Check out that Drac

Enemy Mine came to me by chance, I just found the VHS lying around at my grandparents’ place.
I don’t really remember what age I was when I saw it, probably a teenager. But I do recall I liked it a lot back then, and I re-watched it a few times over the years.
I was glad to watch it on Blu-Ray recently.

Ah the good old days of practical effects… For most people it surely looks dated now in our CGI filled world, but to me the charm is intact.
Visually I think the movie does great. The set pieces mixed with beautiful exterior shots, and matte paintings(!) are a joy to look at.
The planet feels exotic, desolate and inhospitable. You believe the characters would have a really hard time there.
I really like the design for the human and Drac ships, and the space station interiors have that retro-futuristic clean look.
There is some cool puppet work, especially that awful sand-trap creature.
But damn, one thing really outshines everything else: the Drac makeup. It is simply unreal.
It looks a hundred times better than any CGI work (maybe even makeup work) for humanoid alien creatures I’ve seen in movies.

I enjoy the performances, Dennis Quaid does great as an american asshole that slowly changes when confronted with hardship, but of course Louis Gossett Jr steals the show.
He’s fully committed in his performance and it does wonders. The movie could actually be terrible if this didn’t work.

Sound is a very important part in most films, though it’s not usually something I pay a lot of attention to, but with this I did.
The Drac language sounds totally alien, the creatures make horrible noises. I enjoy the soundtrack a lot, I rememebered the main theme right away.
In the emotional moments it could seem cheesy but I like it.

Quaid… Quaid… Start the reactor, Free Mars!

In terms of story, the plot is fairly simple. But the movie itself deals with a lot of different themes.
It is a film about love, friendship, survival, coming together despite our differences, war, tradition, fear of the unknown, slavery and probably many other things.

The movie might appear clunky in its form. The pace keeps changing, the tone too. It can feel a bit all over the place at first.
The last act is a bit rushed, with the one-dimensional Drac-slavers baddies, or the under-developed plot point when the humans suspect Davidge of being a potential traitor.
Or the fact that the movie starts with Davidge narrating the events, but then the final narrator is someone else?
The character progression of Davidge is quite peculiar too.
When we meet him he’s a cocky, restless, and bloodthirsty pilot. He becomes crazy after a human ship gets destroyed by the Dracs, and follows the enemy fighter to a dangerous planet.
He ends up crashing, killing his co-pilot in the process. He still wants to kill the Drac, almost succeeds but is taken prisoner.
They are then forced to cooperate to survive. He teaches Jerry English so they can communicate. Slowly they form a very strong bond, and soon he is loving Jerry as a brother.
He gains a profound respect for the Drac culture, and loves Jerry’s son Zammis very dearly. He has definitely evolved a lot since the beginning.
But, he’s still bloodthirsty and reckless as fuck when it matters.
After being shot, he recovers and then just blasts his way back to the planet, to the slaver’s ship and just kills any human in his path until he finds Zammis. They are evil guys but still, he’s relentless.
Three years spent on the planet did not change his nature.

For many this is a B-movie, but I would disagree because it has a lot of depth to it.
At its core it’s an emotional story, and it still gets me every time.

Ich Liebe dich Wolfgang (well sometimes)

This is one of the three movies made by Wolfgang Petersen that I really really like.
The others being The Neverending Story, which I think is pretty popular, and Troy, that to my surprise seems to be universally hated.
I saw Air Force One and The Perfect Storm as well, but these are not movies that I enjoy.
God, also known as Harrison Ford, could not save the mess that is the former. As for the latter, being lost at sea makes me nervous beyond belief, so imagine in a storm, even if it was a good movie I can’t go through it again.

Enemy Mine would then sit at number 2 in my Petersen top 3, after the marvelous Neverending Story.
I’ll surely write articles about the other as I’m bound to watch them again soon.

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