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 is back to the genre for another crack with The Martian, a Drew Goddard adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel of the same name.
Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a scientist left behind on a mission to Mars, using all of his scientific know-how and resources to fight the 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 every situation to find a solution. Despite having no on-screen acting partner for the majority of the film, Damon manages to convey plenty of humour and pathos as he fights a seemingly impossible battle for survival.
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 often breathtaking, with wide vistas of Mars acting as a reminder of the simultaneous beauty and hostility of the universe. As Guardians of the Galaxy recently 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 sumptuous. From the interiors of the spacecrafts and vehicles, to the screen layouts in mission control, Scott is an expert world builder. He knows as well as anyone that the devil is in the detail when it comes to absorbing audiences into a universe alternate or futuristic to their own, and he achieves it spectacularly and without fuss.
With an excellent supporting cast featuring sturdy performances from the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain, The Martian represents Ridley Scott at the top of his game. It might borrow chunks from Apollo 13 and Silent Running, but when the tension and sense of drama are this well applied to sci-fi, you’ll struggle to find anything of note to complain about. Get your ass to Mars! 4.5/5