I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
As we all prepare for the release of Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN tonight/tomorrow, you’re going to have to forgive us writers as we use adjectives like “thrilling,” “gripping” and “tense” to describe the Matt Damon survival tale. It’s a prodigious film about a left-behind astronaut who must put his skills to the test by surviving on a planet with limited resources.
The survival genre has been an educational, sometimes uplifting and exhausting movie category– and I mean exhausting because it’s hard to watch the subjects endure what they do. Yet, it’s a hopeful genre, because more often than not they are made to inspire and fill us with hope, which is exactly what THE MARTIAN does.
So in honor of THE MARTIAN‘s release – and do be sure to see it at once on the biggest screen possible – we’re looking back at five exceptional films about survival to gear us up for taking on the barren red planet of Mars.
When Danny Boyle finished THE BEACH in 2000, he told people he would never do a movie in the wild again. The material seemed to be too much for the filmmaker, so he publicly proclaimed himself a city director that would stick to more urban tales. However, then Boyle made 127 HOURS (2010), a true story of survival set in a sliver of Blue John Canyon in Utah.
In 2003, backpacker/canyoneer Aron Ralston, portrayed by James Franco in the film, set out on a day of adventure, alone and without telling anyone where he had gone. After a slip happens while navigating through canyon slots, Ralston finds himself in the most unimaginable situation: his hand pinned by a 800-pound boulder. Unable to lift himself free, Ralston has to go to survival mode with only a liter of water and no jacket.
Yet in the end, Ralston was able to pull through and survive five nights (127 hours) and free himself by amputating his arm with a dull knife. When that moment comes, yes, it is gruesome. But at the same time, you root for Ralston and want him to go to unthinkable lengths to survive.
More than a story about a man trapped in the wild, it tells of a someone reaching out for urbanity. We see Ralston long for his sister (Lizzy Caplan) and all the people in his life he left behind. This is an element that serves as the emotional core and heart of the film. What this film is truly about is how we get trapped by the things in our lives that keep us from being together.
In a survival movie genre, it doesn’t get much better than 127 HOURS. The thought of having to get to the place where Ralston goes, both emotionally and physically, it’s something we don’t ever want to think about.
127 HOURS is a film that is as inspiring as it is strong and hopeful.
– Preston Barta
When someone starts talking survival movies, CAST AWAY is the first that pops into my head. Everyone has seen it, and will shout “WILSON!” at the drop of a hat. However, because of a pop-culture reference, we tend to forget how great this movie is as a whole. Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx operations executive who is incredibly focused on his career. So much so that he leaves his new fiancée Kelly (Helen Hunt) to go to Malaysia, where his plane crashes over the Pacific and he becomes stranded on a desert island.
One of the more well-known facts of CAST AWAY is the physical transformation the actor goes through to mirror the character’s transformation. Tom Hanks throws himself into the role of survivor, and we automatically root for Chuck’s survival. We cheer with him when he finally learns to start a fire; we yearn with him as he longs for Kelly. It’s a one-man show that amazingly never loses steam or gets boring. The reality of time passing becomes the villain, and the longer Chuck tries to survive, the conflict builds. Every main detail that leads to Chuck’s escape off the island is shared with the audience because of the massive investment we have, and director Robert Zemeckis keeps us in the palm of his hand. A palm represented by the face of a volleyball. WILSOOOOOOOOOOOOON!!!!!!!
– Jared McMillan
Imagine you’re an eight year-old boy, going to bed and thinking you’re about to embark on a family vacation to Paris. Only when you wake up and everyone is gone. You have been left behind because you’re an unwanted plight on the core of your family’s existence. The empty feeling of solitude has come upon you before you’ve entered pubescence. Life, as you know it, has become responsibility, and you must survive the cold dead winter alone. Sounds disturbing how I put it, but that is what we must realize about the Christmas survival classic HOME ALONE.
It can’t really be a family film because we are introduced to an incredibly annoying family known as the McAllisters. Their youngest son, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), is constantly getting disrespected so he makes a wish for his family to disappear. No one tells him that Christmas magic has consequences! As he is alone, his id takes over and he does all the things that his family wouldn’t allow him to do. As days go by, he realizes that they might never come back, the reality of their dislike for him setting in. He grows up before our very eyes, leaving his innocence behind to deal with chores and staving off a crime wave by two burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). He has to defend his rations and his life from the outside world, getting creative with his environment to survive the night. HOME ALONE is not a family movie. This is the study of youth surviving in the face of negligence and crime.
– Jared McMillan
The world of Cormac McCarthy is dark, barren and grim that’s expertly captured in 2009 dystopian film THE ROAD. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, the relentless environment bolsters their performances. The relationship between a father and a son is a deep bond that takes the film to places that may be startling but undoubtedly reveals truths about the lengths one will go for survival.
The duo trudge through the rough terrain of America that has been scorched by a nuclear blast. They encounter drifters, some friendly, most not– and director John Hillcoat never wavers from a father’s love for his son.
This is a slow mood piece that captures a time in the history of the Earth that thankfully hasn’t happened yet, and while it may be difficult to get in the headspace to digest this material, the relationship forged is unexpectedly moving.
– Cole Clay
What else is there to say about John Carpenter’s THE THING? It was released in 1982 and wasn’t necessarily as well received as it is today. Taking place in the Antarctic a group of scientists come across a mysterious shape-shifter that can assume the identity of any of the man (or animal) it touches.
Kurt Russell leads the way as the resident badass R.J. McCready (just say that name out loud), who attempts to lead the compound to safety. With exceptional make-up work and practical effects, THE THING has some of the most breath-taking scenes including one very famous interlude where the scientists test to see who is infected with HORRIFYING results.
– Cole Clay
THE MARTIAN opens in participating locations starting at 8 p.m. tonight, and opens nationwide on tomorrow (10/2).