The Martian (2015) Directed by Ridley Scott. With Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Askel Hennie, Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Widely speaking, Ridley Scott’s return to science-fiction was considered a rough landing when the much-hyped Prometheus was released in 2012. Fast-forward a few years and the legendary director returned to the genre for another crack with The Martian, a Drew Goddard adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel of the same name.
Matt Damon is Mark Watney, an astrobotanist left behind and assumed dead on a mission to Mars. Watney is forced to summon his scientific know-how to fight back against the main antagonist of the piece…nature.
It’s like Robinson Crusoe On Mars (you have to be really cool to have seen that one) meets Apollo 13 as Damon “sciences the shit” out of many a dilemma. These intersecting snippets of science and science-fiction provide some of the film’s strongest moments.
Despite having no on-screen acting partner for the majority of the film, Damon conveys a sense of humourous optimism as he fights a seemingly impossible battle for survival. The writing is clever to have Mark address the audience directly as he logs his alone time in the form of video diaries. If there is one itch I could not scratch, it would be in the casting of Damon. My overriding feeling is that a lesser known actor would have deepened a sense of peril.
Damon’s struggle on the red planet alone could be enough to make a solid 80-minute film, but The Martian is told from three perspectives. On Earth, brains storm away for a possible rescue angle while Damon’s mission colleagues, led by Jessica Chastain are on standby for any potential attempts to save the former Private Ryan.
Visually, the film is occasionally sweeping with grand vistas of Mars serving as a reminder of the simultaneous beauty and hostility of the universe. As Guardians of the Galaxy previously demonstrated, outer space and a 1970’s pop soundtrack make an effective juxtaposition. Damon isn’t just stranded on Mars with limited oxygen and food supplies, he’s also got Donna Summer to contend with.
As with any Ridley Scott project, the art design is convincing. From the interiors of the spacecrafts and vehicles to the screen layouts in mission control, Scott is an expert world builder, or in the case, world tweaker. He recognises the devil is in the detail when it comes to absorbing audiences into a universe alternate or futuristic to their own. He achieves it well and without fuss.
With a strong supporting cast featuring appearances from Kristen Wiig and Mackenzie Davies…and sturdy performances from the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain, The Martian represents Ridley Scott working at the upper end of his game. “Get your ass to Mars!”.