Matt Damon is stranded in space – again – and this time it’s the turn of director Ridley Scott to find him. Ryan Pollard takes a look at a contender for Hollywood film of the year…
Adapted from Andy Weir’s acclaimed novel, The Martian begins with an exploratory expedition to Mars that quickly hits a snag: a storm arrives and the team hastily decide to evacuate. However, due to falling debris, Mark Watney (Matt Damon, and the titular “martian” of the title) gets stranded and is presumed dead. Realising he’s there for the long haul with a rescue being years away, Watney tries to stay alive (and protect his sanity), fighting the elements until he can establish some form of contact with Earth in the hope a solution can be found to get him home.
This has been one of the most anticipated movies of this year, and not only does it not disappoint, but it’s up there with the equally ambitious Ex Machina as one of the very best of the year. The film is special on so many levels, you could actually sit back down and watch it all over again from the beginning immediately afterwards. The film was originally supposed to be helmed by Drew Goddard (who’s also the screenwriter) before he abandoned ship to create the now-cancelled Amazing Spider-Man 2 spin-off The Sinister Six, getting instead industry veteran and space-age specialist Ridley Scott. Scott is known as a great visualist, a phenomenal world-builder and a real actor’s director, yet hasn’t had the best eyes or ears for a good screenplay as evident with his most recent films like Prometheus, The Counsellor and Exodus: Gods and Kings.
In the case of this, it has a really well written screenplay thanks to Goddard who has taken Weir’s novel and translated it to the screen in a way that is witty, snappy and funny, and is the best written Ridley Scott film in ages. This demonstrates that a great film is built around a great screenplay, and this is shown in the best of Ridley Scott’s works like Thelma and Louise, Alien and particularly Blade Runner, which remains the best of Scott’s works. The dialogue in this is smart and leaps off the screen in a real joyous, exciting and fun way, which is definitely a contrast to the ear-scraping speeches in the abominable The Counsellor.
The film also has a central character that you can sympathise and care about, and that is all due to the excellent Matt Damon who delivers one of his best performances yet. He’s charming and likeable without being annoying or monotonous, so all the time, you do wonder how he’s going to survive this ordeal long enough to get back home, and that is credit due to both the writing and his performance. Despite Damon being the star of the show, the supporting performances are still solidly credible with the likes of Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Kate Mara (who redeems herself after the awful Fantastic Four reboot).
The pop-science involved, which involves growing crops on Mars, is just credible enough to be believable. Usually when you approach science in cinema, it has to sound exciting to an audience without being too techy or monotonous, and this manages to avoid that problem. Despite being given a 12 certificate, younger viewers will probably emerge from the film with a renewed interest in science, biology, astronomy, as well as botany, and it’s no coincidence that the film was released around the same time as the recent news stories about Mars. The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is stunning as he brilliantly captures the glowing sandy planes of the desolate red planet, and the retro pop soundtrack brilliantly harks back to last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Speaking of which, the film does nod its cap to a lot to other great sci-fi films of yore, other than Guardians of the Galaxy, including Silent Running, Apollo 13, Moon, and Gravity, but all that adds to the its charm.
The Martian is a film about a man defying nature with basically gaffer tape, yet the film is unlike anything that’s been released recently, and in fact, eclipses both Gravity and Interstellar (which coincidentally had Matt Damon stranded on another planet whilst Jessica Chastain was far away). It’s extremely well written, has a charming central performance, has an excitedly silly yet nail-biting final act, and makes brilliant use of real science. In short, it is a blast to watch from start to finish. Not only one of Ridley Scott’s best films, but one of the very best of 2015.