Sep 292015
 
My Favourite Matt Damon
The Martian Launch One Sheet Poster
Title: The Martian
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon,
Jessica Chastain,
Kristen Wiig,
Jeff Daniels,
Michael Peña
Genre: Sci-Fi
Runtime: 2 Hours 01 mins
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: US: Oct 02 2015
UK: Sep 30 2015
See If You Like: Cast Away,
Apollo 13,

Nowadays Ridley Scott’s name on a film’s credits usually comes with a sense of dread. Sure, he’s made big, fantastic, landmark films in a variety of genres; Alien; Blade Runner; & Gladiator; which sealed his untouchable status as a director, but his more recent credits are filled with a variety of under performing creative busts (like the detestable Prometheus). Thankfully, The Guv’nor has delivered with a surprising return to form in an absolute diamond of a sci-fi flick. Who would have thought a film with a simple concept as ‘Matt Damon gets stuck on Mars’ would be so superb?

After being presumed dead by the rest of his crew after being hit by debris in a storm on Mars whilst evacuating, biontologist Mark Watney (Damon, The Monuments Men) awakens to find he has been left stranded on the desolate and lifeless red planet. Whilst his crewmates, the support team at NASA, and the rest of the world mourn the astronaut’s passing, Mark gets to work making his situation liveable in his mission base. Food and communication proves to be early struggles whilst Mark starts to think long term survival with the next manned mission to Mars being a good four years away… until Earth finally gets in contact with the stranded man.

The Martian‘s key points about a man marooned and his struggles make for a simple tale, but Mark’s drive to survive as he calculates the days until NASA will next be in the neighbourhood, how he works out to make food on a planet where life and water doesn’t exist as we know it, and improves the technology he has at his disposal encapsulates the human spirit and the will to go on when times are bleak. Although it doesn’t get to that darker side, the film is kept remarkably upbeat. Mark knows he could die at any time, because he’s a human being on a planet where he is not meant to live without artificial aid, yet he never truly gets down, cries, or gets properly angry. He knows that won’t help him so he uses his intelligence and cold logic to deal with his survival by going on and getting by with it. It’s only in the final sections where Mark is truly reflective and emotional about the situation he’s stuck in which is an impressive take on a survival flick to leave for so long.

Damon goes a long way to making Mark a fully rounded character as it is his natural charisma and humour that makes him comes across as a real person. He is more than believable as the scientist trapped on his lonely desolate planet, for one who is not obviously down about it at all. The rest of the cast aid Damon in a top draw overall performance. Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) only plays a small part as Mark’s mission commander and she carries about her guilt about leaving him behind throughout, to the point of making amends big time at the time in a truly female empowering scene for cinema. The bitey back and forth between Jeff Daniels’ (Dumb & Dumber To) head of NASA and Sean Bean’s (Pixels) crew liason over various issues to wellbeing of not only Mark but the psychological effects of the crew too is a nice addition and very enjoyable. Chiwetel Ejiofor keeps adding to that impressive 12 Years a Slave entry with a cool role as the mission commander than tries to bring everyone together to find solutions for Mark.

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What makes The Martian the best film in Scott’s recent filmography is how well it’s shot, the impressive cast performance, and the playing about in another genre he is renowned for. The use of various desert terrain is a reasonable cheat when you notice the vastness of some locations. The red filter used is an easy thought but it works incredibly well regardless; really selling the fact Matt Damon has been plucked from Earth and booted millions and millions of miles away to another planet. The camerawork is crisp and there are some neat touches; like the echo beeps everytime we count over another day – or Sol – for Mark on Mars.

Scott’s harshness as a tough director also obviously pays off here; as although it is a talented cast with many noticeable names it still takes an excellent director to get everyone to deliver with great chemistry; stunningly he even managed to get comedy actress Kristen Wiig (Anchorman 2) to do a great PR businesswoman role. The survival film has been done before, along with the lost in space one, yet combining the two and adding a powerful touch of humanity “never say die” spirit makes for a triumphant rebirth of the space exploration movie. Scott sees sense to know when to balance the comedy with the gravitas of the situation, which is not something you see handled well in science fiction for an entire runtime.

A witty script in the same vein of a Joss Whedon work is not a surprise when you learn it comes from his mate Drew Goddard (Daredevil) with biting lines & wit to balance the severity of the situation. As a book adaptation, it seems faithful without too many complaints from the literacy crowd. Strangely, there’s not too much peril Mark has to go through; he solves most problems with clear thinking and relative ease, using the equipment at his disposal and patience. There’s no true element of danger at all with the Mark on Mars section. Whilst a nice change to see a simple, tranquil like run of events from a survival film, it’s still a curiosity which does not allow for drama as Mark is in control constantly.

Oddly, the ratio of the Mark to Earth scenes seems off; it’s far too evenly split, cutting back to the reactions of Mark’s death of the mission control at NASA, how they deal with it, them figuring out he’s alive and attempting to launch supply runs & communicate with him. It’s incredibly well acted with a varied cast of a near all-star level and their scenes help build up to an admittedly moving ending as the whole world literally stops what it’s doing to see the final escape attempt of Mark but The Martian could’ve achieved true greatness by going even further and focussing purely on Mark’s point of view. Go full Castaway. The constant cutting back to Earth detracts from the more interesting and insightful moments of Mark at ease with his situation and being near philosophical without uttering a word – just a man with a will to survive. It would help with the crippling near two and a half hour runtime getting cut too. As it is, there’s a lot of mood enhancing, but ultimately unimportant, fluff which kills off any of the more emotional points The Martian is trying to drive home.

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Whilst other sci-fi films recently have tried to bludgeon you over the head with the hard science and techno babble to explain everything and resolve problems, The Martian keeps it thankfully low key. Simple troubles get simple solutions. Mark’s home gets a hole blown into it, exposing the atmosphere so he tapes it up with plastic sheeting. A refreshing change of pace when Interstellar‘s attempts just end up confusing you. Although, that being said, there are some liberties with the real science used – Mars gets way colder than the standard minus 15 degrees temperature, there is no way on God’s green Earth they would let an astronaut go for a spacewalk without something to tether him to his spaceship and I simply don’t believe that Mark would be able to survive the final escape attempt when his rocket is barely shielded from the space elements. Sure they may have had some science backing up that final fact but it’s too unbelievable. Whilst The Martian is undoubtedly more clever than your average summer blockbuster, there are some puzzling ‘WTH?!’ moments which were a struggle to swallow. It was enjoyable for cinematic escape of course, but the dodgy science parts distracted from the great build up to said moments.

Attempting to avoid whizzing on gold, especially when it’s an example of formerly incredible director Scott returning to form, there’s an impossible to pinpoint element which stops The Martian scoring higher. The performances are all great with not a single cast member putting in a less than good turn; with a thorough exploration of the human spirit downplayed as a man just gets on with the task at hand, with surviving in a slick and smart science survival film; the high quality of The Martian should not be understated.

Though it’s a combination of the distracting, understandable, but still ludicrous science moments, the incessant need to keep cutting back to ground control, and a lack of threat during the bulk of Mark’s time on the red planet, that create a perfect storm of lightness which dilutes the emotional depth Damon brings to the forefront, and leaves The Martian a flawed masterpiece.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife.

Verdict:
Ratings 08 Buy from Amazon.co.uk
The Martian Launch Quad