FILM REVIEW: The Martian
Right from the outset you definitely get the sense that Ridley Scott read Andy Weir’s 2011 hit sci-fi survival novel The Martian, with its ever so meticulous detailed descriptions of chemical reactions, planetary orbits and zero gravity mechanics. Ridley clearly came to the same conclusion that protagonist Mark Watney does: “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”
What The Martian does better, more than any film in recent times (yes that even includes Interstellar, with its painstakingly recreated black holes) put the ‘sci’ back into sci-fi. With this you would expect the film to be a dull affair yet, it somehow manages to be a witty, entertaining drama. My best comparison would be if the films Cast Away and Gravity had a baby, you’d get The Martian. It’s safe to say this is Ridley Scott’s best film in more than a decade.
For the people who aren’t accustomed to the book or watched the mildly spoiler-filled trailers, The Martian has a simple premise to mask the complexities of the events that will follow: Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind on the red planet when his NASA mission is cut short by a violent storm and his crewmates assume he is dead. With no way home for at least four years, he’s forced to find a way to survive until his colleagues back on Earth can rescue him. Cue the science, as Watney (a botanist) attempts to find a way to grow food and survive, while his NASA colleagues back home-led by Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sean Bean- after learning of their mistake, scramble to build a new spacecraft capable of delivering him essential supplies until he can be rescued.
Much of the film’s success is due to a great performance by Damon, one of his best lines is wisecracking “In your face, Neil Armstrong” in the face of inevitable loneliness and danger. The rest of the impressive cast are also engaging: from NASA’s ground staff (including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig) to Watney’s crew, led by Jessica Chastain. The script by Drew Goddard manages to walk the line with handling the task of explaining all the scientific elements, with an added level of emotional heft, without going too far and lose the audience. The film also looks incredibly beautiful, with the Jordanian desert standing in for the vast and endless expanses of Mars.
But the greatest achievement of The Martian is its ability, more than any science fiction movie in recent memory, strives to make space actually cool again. It stands above Gravity in this respect because it fascinates you with the science as well as the fiction. Not only does it largely avoid dumbing down its source text, or burdening the audience with an overabundance of sub plots, it sticks to its guns all the way through. This film is about one man’s survival and it never deviates from too much.
Today we inhabit a world in which NASA is pretty much redundant and a shadow of its former self, with the future of manned space flight resting at a precarious point and an uncertain future. Despite this, here is a film where NASA is not only sending up missions to space but even missions to Mars as well. It shows a world where countries and governments unite to innovate a solution to save one man. With all this it seems like Ridley Scott is showing a huge middle finger to the powers that be. This might be pushing the envelope of sentimentality but it’s a message that is rather poignant considering the world’s current climate. The scenes of crowds gathering in Times Square and Trafalgar Square, enraptured by live-streams of astronaut, however does border on the cliché but at this point you feel like one of the people in the crowd hoping that Watney makes it.
This film amazes on all levels and it’s a must see for anyone who loves a brilliantly crafted, emotionally gripping film. Matt Damon proves how good of an actor he is and I’ll be so bold as to say he’s made a big comeback turning in one of his best performances of his career. Ridley Scott has also made a comeback of sorts erasing some of his past mistakes he made with Prometheus. NASA even went so far as to promote the film, this might be shameless plugging, however it does cement that this film is one of the most scientifically accurate sci-fi films in a very long time.