Note: Portions of this review can also be found in my review of the original Blu-ray release of The Martian as well as Michael S. Palmer's 4K Ultra HD review of The Martian.
'The Martian' turned out to be one of my favorite films of last year, but I certainly didn't expect it to be so going into my first viewing. While I had not read the Andy Weir novel upon which the movie is based (and still haven't), I was pretty wary about the fact that Ridley Scott had been picked to helm the picture. While I'd never question Mr. Scott's technical abilities as a filmmaker, I've been less than satisfied by most of the movies he's directed over the past 20 or so years. I mean you're talking to a guy who still doesn't understand all the fuss about Gladiator, which I still think is pretty mediocre.
Well, color me amazed. Not only is 'The Martian' a tremendous achievement for Ridley Scott and all involved, but there's a sense of lightheartedness and fun here (among dire circumstances to be sure) that I don't think has been present in any of Ridley's prior movies. Yes, a lot of that no doubt is due to Weir's novel (and the screenplay by Drew Goddard), but Mr. Scott should get a lot of credit as well. I don't know if this is Ridley's best movie ever, but it's got a strong argument for being his most crowd-pleasing.
The movie stars Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney, who gets stranded on the red planet when the remainder of the crew – believing he is dead – launches their rocket back towards Earth during a brutal Martian storm. Left behind, Watney much use his scientific knowledge to figure out a way to survive on Mars until a rescue mission can be mounted back at NASA. While most writers would have delved into the horrors of such a predicament, both Weir's book and Goodard's screenplay present Watney as a man of extreme exuberance. His intelligence is only matched by his sense of humor, and Damon is delightful in the role – a performance that won him the Golden Globe and got him nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
But Watney's dilemma makes up for only half the drama here. Back on Earth, a NASA team led by Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) must decide what – if anything – to do about Watney. One of the first decisions is not to tell the returning crew from Mars about him, as it would only prove to distract them on their return back home. Even more though, Sanders is forced to juggle the desire to rescue Watney with the very real limitations of both the scientific logistics of rescuing him and the budgetary abilities of NASA to do so. In any other movie by any other team of filmmakers, it would have been very easy to turn Daniels' character into a bad guy...giving the audience someone to root against. But 'The Martian' smartly avoids any familiar Hollywood tropes, allowing Sanders to be an extremely well-rounded and even sympathetic character that the audience can relate to, even if they don't always agree with the decisions he's making.
About the only thing that does seem 'Hollywood' about 'The Martian' is the final scenes in which Watney's rescue is performed (I hope it's not a spoiler...but did you really think they weren't going to rescue him?). Again, not having read the book, I'm not sure if the depiction here is accurate to the novel or exclusive to the screenplay, but there's a bit too many things that have to go precisely right that result in a climax that seems as much good luck as it does scientific ingenuity, which slightly dampers the theme of human innovation that runs throughout the movie. It's a nitpick to be sure, but after all the movie had put these characters though, I think it would made for a more realistic ending if the filmmakers had just allowed the rescue plan to go off without a hitch. Again, it would have fit the anti-'Hollywood' feeling that so much of the movie had up until those final scenes.
This 'Extended Edition' of the movie (which also includes the theatrical version on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs, meaning the prior release is no longer needed unless you bought the 3D version, which is not included here) provides roughly 10 more minutes of footage – the vast majority of which is just an extra line of dialogue or establishing shots here and there throughout. The movie is not any better or worse for the additional moments, and serves as just an alternate, slightly longer version of the movie rather than one that feels like a 'definitive cut' in any way.
But let there be no doubts: 'The Martian' is a wonderful movie, and quite possibly the best movie to be set on Mars that has ever graced the silver screen (sorry, Total Recall!). It's certainly the kind of movie that holds up to repeat viewings and even more than that – it's just so nice to see a film that embraces science the way this film does...proof that a movie can be both smart and an audience pleaser at the same time. This one's a winner.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Martian' lands on 4K Ultra HD in a standard black Elite keepcase, which houses the 4K disc and Blu-ray movie disc on a plastic hub, with the second Blu-ray (containing all the bonus materials, aside from the commentary track) on the inside right. Also inside the case is an insert containing a code for a digital copy of the extended version of the movie only (the flip side of the insert has an advertisement for 'The Martian' video game app). True to all of 20th Century Fox's 4K releases to date, there is no slipcover provided. There are no front-loaded trailers on either of the Blu-rays. The main menu (identical on all three discs) is designed to look like a computer readout screen that might be used in this movie, with a montage of footage of the Martian landscape playing on it. Menu selections run across the bottom of the screen.
In addition to this release, 20th Century Fox has also released the same two Blu-rays and digital copy as part of a Blu-ray only release (it does not include a DVD version, for those wondering). This, of course, is in addition to the standard Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray version, and the standard version 4K Ultra HD that have already been released. Yes, this movie is less than a year old and it's already had five various home video releases.
Although the packaging is labeled for Region A, the Blu-rays in this release are actually region-free. As always, the 4K Ultra HD disc has no region coding.
'The Martian' features a new extended version on this release, but the scenes that are identical in the two cuts appear to be taken from the same transfer, and that transfer appears to be identical to the prior 4K release's video quality. Therefore, HDD reviewer Michael S. Palmer's prior thoughts about the 4K Ultra HD transfer of 'The Martian' also apply here, and are as follows:
'The Martian' colonizes Ultra HD Blu-ray with a strong and vibrant HEVC H.265 encode, with HDR 10 for those with compatible displays, and is framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
Let's begin with what works. I've read comments on our forums and Facebook page that describe 'The Martian' in Ultra HD Blu-ray as akin to watching a 3D movie. Sharp, colorful, a window into another world (even for those without HDR). And for the most part, I share these sentiments.
I did numerous A-to-B comparisons -- at a pixel-peeping distance -- between this UHD BD and the standard BD, and a few things stuck out. There is some additional perceived resolution on wide / special effect shots (the Hermes orbiting Mars or Earth). Shadow detail is also noticeably better, plus there are several extraordinary night time shots (check out the one around 00:36:25). There are also visible details in spectral highlights (look for any scene with solar panels). And finally we have the wide color gamut. Wow, just wow. Reds and blues and greens leap off the screen, producing an extremely attractive image. I recently went to the Dolby Cinema prototype lab in Los Angeles to screen 'The Martian' in Dolby Vision, and this presentation very much lives up to that (though the Dolby Vision version had better black levels AND was in 3D).
However, all of these positives come at a price: noise. This production combined numerous sources into a 2K DI master. According to Fox, this Ultra HD Blu-ray received a new color grading, and represents a combination of upscaled 2K material and downrezzed 5K content. I suspect upscaling is an issue with this release. Minor Blu-ray blemishes -- mostly interior shots inside the HAB or aboard the Hermes -- become gritty noise in Ultra HD Blu-ray even with display sharpness filters set to zero. Granted, it's quite possible my particular TV enhanced this sensation, but I haven't noticed a similar amount of noise on UHD HDR streaming titles, nor on the Kingsman UHD release. I also found the black levels in this presentation to be good, but not great (the color of space was brighter than the letter boxing).
I also noted in my A-to-B comparisons that the K8500 upscales 'The Martian' Blu-ray quite well. Were it not for wide color and added shadow / highlight details, I would almost prefer the Blu-ray because it's less noisy. However, the Blu-ray crushes shadow details far more often.
Overall, 'The Martian' is a strong Ultra HD presentation, and certainly competes with the Blu-ray 3D as the ultimate way to watch this movie (if Blu-ray 3D had HDR, it would be no contest). It's also a terrific title to test out a new Ultra HD display; if -- after checking all other settings -- you find banding, you likely don't have a true 10-bit panel. And, if the Mars environment (and actors' faces) skew too rosy of a red, you likely need to adjust your calibration. It certainly helped me get mine in line.
As mentioned earlier in this review, this is one of five 4K or Blu-ray releases that 20th Century Fox has produced for 'The Martian' to date, and that's not even counting the stand-alone DVD version of the movie. However, also to date, this 4K Ultra HD release is the only one that comes with a Dolby Atmos track – only available on the 4K disc, but also available for both the extended and thearical versions on that disc. Since the core 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track from which the Atmos track was created (and which it defaults to if one doesn't have Atmos capabilities) was already reference quality, what does Atmos add? Well, for the first time at home, viewers/listeners will be able to feel enveloped in sound, starting with the storm at the beginning of the movie and the spaceship launch, both of which take advantage of Atmos's vertical/overhead audio capabilites.
As for other aspects of the Atmos track, it's just as appealing and as solid in quality as one would hope. Not only is there noticeable and distinct separation for 'The Martian's more quiet moments, but some wonderful surround use and LFE booms during the movie's more action-packed sequences. Those disco tunes peppered throughout the movie sound pretty great too, for the record. While dialogue is primarily front and center, it's clearly rendered and – thankfully – mixed properly with the rest of the track. This is some fantastic sounding audio, and even though it's quite early in the year, I doubt we're going to get a much better sounding release in 2016 than 'The Martian'.
In addition to the Atmos track, the Blu-ray also contains a 5.1 English Descriptive track (for the theatrical version only), as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish and French. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, Spanish, and French. There are also English, Spanish, and French subtitles available for the commentary track.
4K Ultra HD Disc
Blu-Ray Disc 1
Blu-ray Disc 2
One of my favorite films of 2015, 'The Martian' is a winner not only because of the sense of joy and wonderment it provides viewers, but because it's one of the few Hollywood releases that unashamedly promotes science and doesn't fall into the typical Hollywood trappings of insisting on having a 'bad guy" to root against. This 4K Extended Edition release, which still includes the theatrical version in 4K plus a ton of new bonus materials (in addition to the previously released stuff), has now become the best home video release of this movie. This is a must-own 4K Ultra HD title.