In the first wave of 4k Ultra HD movies from Fox, the one I was most excited about was The Martian. Nominated for an impressive seven Academy Awards and the winner of two Golden Globe Awards (Best Actor for Matt Damon and in a head-scratching category, Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy) the film is not only very good, but visually impressive. How would the latest innovation to hit home theaters, 4k UHD, handle the film? Very well as it turns out. The film looks and sounds amazing and the 4K transfer is a marked improvement over the Blu-ray.
The Ares III is half way through their stay on Mars when disaster strikes. A sand storm hits that threatens to tip over the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) that is supposed to get them back into orbit on Mars. The crew runs from their living quarters to the MAV through the storm and at one point a piece of debris strikes Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and sends him flying. His life support signals all go down and with no way to recover the body in the storm and the mission at risk, the captain reluctantly gives the order to return to Earth.
Only Mark isn't dead. A piece of metal damaged his suit and wounded him, but he is very much alive and finds himself in a rather difficult position. With no way to contact Earth or the Ares III, he has to find some way of staying alive until the scheduled Ares IV mission arrives, some four years hence. There is an oxygen generator in their quarters, and a water recycling system. But what about food? The supply that he has will never last four years, and Mars is a lifeless planet. Oh yeah, and the Ares IV is going to land a couple of thousand kilometers away. Not one to give up, Watney, who chronicles his trial through a video log, announces that to survive he's "gonna have to science the shit out of this." And that he does.
The movie deserves all of the accolades that it has received. Told with enough science to illustrate that the steps he takes are (mostly) realistic but without adding so much detail as to bore viewers, this is one of those very few movies that gets hard science fiction right. Both on Mars, and on Earth where it is discovered that Watney is alive and a rescue mission is planned, the steps that people take are logical and ground in reality, which is nice. It also makes for a gripping and exciting story.
There's a lot that director Ridley Scott gets right with the film. If you are hesitant seeing a Scott SF flick after sitting through the rather uninspiring Prometheus, don't worry. That's not the case here. Scott manages to make a story where much of the narrative involve a lone man struggling for survival and make it not only interesting, but fun and engrossing too. He uses music as a running gag (the only songs available to Watney are the captain's disco files... which he hates but still listens to) and adds a lot of humor too. The script is also littered with little nuggets of information on a wide range of topics from botany to maritime law. And it explains how, technically, Watney not only colonizes Mars and becomes a space pirate.
The film is gorgeous too, and that really comes out in the Ultra HD disc. The surface of Mars is lonely but beautiful, and the space scenes are magnificent. Add to that a very intense and well mixed audio track and you have an outstanding movie.
?The Ultra HD Disc:
This release comes with both a 4K Ultra HD disc and a Blu-ray disc in a single-width keepcase. Unfortunately, the 3D version is not included, so you'll have to decide which is more important, 3D or 4K, or you could always buy both. I'm sure the studio wouldn't mind.
Simply put, this disc looks fantastic. The 2.40:1, 2160p UHD image is stunning from the first shot to the last. Now, granted, there are not a lot of titles on this format so I don't have a lot to compare it to, but I was incredibly impressed with the way this movie looked. The increase in the level of detail was what really stands out. I could discern the smallest pieces of dirt in the soil and see fine cracks in the rocks of Mars. The landscapes were enthralling too the earthy red colors really making the film come to life. The space scenes were equally impressive with deep rich blacks filled with stars that only showed up as specks of light. Skin tones are natural and realistic too. I did an A-B comparison with the BR disc and the UHD disc really does look better, especially when comparing details. I was trying to find some flaw to mention in the transfer, but I couldn't see anything that bothered me.
The movie arrives with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, but oddly there is not a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X track available. I found that a bit odd, but the audio that is included is awesome. Like the video, I wanted to find something wrong with it, but couldn't. From the sand storm at the beginning that fills the room with sound and immerses the viewer to the powerful impact of an explosion the movie makes you happy that you invested in a good set of speakers. The more quite moments of the film are impressive too, with the dialog being clean and crisp. The disco music that serves as a soundtrack to the movie comes through loud and clear and (as someone who lived through the horror of disco I can't believe I'm saying this) works well with the film. Overall this is an excellent sounding disc.
All of the extras are found on the BR disc, and therefore none of them are in UHD, which is a shame. They include:
Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction - interviews with the director and writer on how the book became a movie.
Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes - how the cast was chosen and the costumes designed
Gag Reel - it has its moments and is worth watching
The following are "fake" documentaries and pieces that take place in the world of the movie.
??? Ares III: Refocused - a 17-minute news show "documentary" on how astronaut Mark Watney became trapped on Mars.
??? Ares III: Farewell - Watney introduces the crew of the Ares III
??? The Right Stuff - psychiatric evaluations of the crew.
??? Ares: Our Greatest Adventure - Neil de Grasse Tyson talks about the Ares mission.
??? Leave Your Mark - an Under Armour commercial featuring Mark Watney.
??? Bring Him Home - a look at how everyone around the world came together to rescue the stranded astronaut.
There is also a theatrical trailer and a Production Art Gallery.
All in all I enjoyed the fake news items... at first. There were a few to many and the novelty quickly wore off. I wish they had included a commentary track or a more in-depth behind-the-scenes featurette.
This is an excellent film that looks and sounds amazing on this Ultra HD disc. Matt Damon does a fantastic job as a man stranded on a planet all by himself, and director Ridley Scott makes the movie fun, interesting and very engrossing. Highly Recommended.