The Martian: When a Movie Triumphs Over a Presentation

The Martian was one of the best movies I saw this year.

This was despite being one of the worst cinema experiences I’ve ever had.

Here's the deal: If I’m paying money for a movie, I expect it to be good. Not just the film, but the experience around it. I expect the picture to be excellent, and huge, and the sound to be perfect, and huge.

If it’s not… what’s the point of going out? I have a great home theater at home with only one annoying person checking their messages on their phone throughout.

With an evening to chill in London, my friend and I tried to see Spectre on opening night, but the showings were either sold out, or too late.

So we picked The Martian at Empire Leicester Square, certainly one of the busiest cinemas in town. The tickets were $15 each.

I actually laughed out loud when I saw the “theater.” It was fewer than 60 seats, arranged in three rows, in front of an admittedly large screen (probably 20 feet wide or so).

The seats were quite close to the screen. We were in the second row, probably 10 feet back. I don’t mind being close to a screen, that’s how my home theater setup is.

The first problem was that I could easily see the pixels from where we were sitting. This was no 4K projector. The second issue was it was dim. I’m just guessing, but if it was more than 5 foot-Lamberts I’d be shocked.

Both those things are unfortunate, but not dealbreakers. However, the shockingly bad contrast ratio made it look so washed out, had I been alone I would have complained. I’ve reviewed $500 projectors with a better image than this. Not an exaggeration. In fact, it wouldn’t have been surprised if it was an Epson 750HD with an anamorphic lens. That PJ has the light output and lack of contrast ratio that matched what I saw in this commercial theater.

Irritated would be putting it mildly, but my friend wasn’t so I forced myself to try to enjoy the movie.

The movie is awesome. Funny, tense, well-paced, fantastically acted… and one of the first big-budget sci-fi movies in ages that’s actually sci-fi.

I’m amazed this movie was 1) made, 2) made this well. There’s no villain, huge swaths of the movie are Matt Damon doing science stuff and talking to the camera, and… then there’s Ridley Scott.

Look, Ridley Scott owes me $15 and 2 hours of my life for Prometheus. That movie is like getting a swirly in a port-a-potty on the last day of Coachella. Given his past success and the spot-on excellence of The Martian, I’m willing to assign more of the blame to Damon Lindelof whose last quality piece of writing was signing his residuals check for Lost.

So sometimes yes, the quality of the movie can transcend a poor presentation. Something I should have realized that time I bawled my eyes out watching Big Fish on an airplane.

Apone's picture

Sad to hear that you have received a bad experience at Empire.

The smaller screens in Empire are no way near as good as the main screen. There are other Imax screens in and around the London area.

Have to agree about the movie - really enjoyed it.

If you are still in London, I'll take you to another Imax to see Spectre - on the house :).

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Back home now, but thanks for the offer! I saw The World Is Not Enough opening weekend at the Odeon on the other side of the Square and I remember it being awesome. That was our first choice, oh well. Next time!
mars2k's picture

You didn't like the movie ask for a refund. They will give it to you. I say this in the spirit of constructive mentorship. BTW Scott doesn't owe you anything because you could have gotten your money back then too. I say this in the hope that you can free your soul of bitterness and resentment. :-)

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Let me save you some time, in the spirit of constructive mentorship, and google "sarcasm" for you:
mars2k's picture

Got it, love the mag btw.

mikem's picture

To each his own. I loved this movie and look forward to P2. While the script bordered a wee bit sophomoric you had to at least have enjoyed the special effects and sound.

dommyluc's picture

I'm so sick of people whining about "Prometheus" as though it was the worst movie ever made. Maybe if every frame of the movie and every word of the script wasn't overanalyzed like a Biblical study class, one could just enjoy the damned movie. Hey, if you want to criticize a really disappointing sci-fi movie, try going after "Interstellar", that pretentious, boring, "2001"-wannabe. If Ridley Scott owes you $15 for "Prometheus", then Christopher Nolan owes me a lobotomy to get that overrated POS out of my head.

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Not the worst, no. But shockingly horrible.