THE MARTIAN

 

What does a person do when they know, they will die soon, horribly and alone, 140 million miles away from anyone who could provide help, and no one even knows you’re alive?

TheMartianPoster1

A “normal” person would probably collapse into the foetal position and curse their fate until it consumed them, but not so astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Left behind and presumed dead when the crew of the Ares 3 Mars mission were forced to abandon the planet by a huge Martian storm, Watney has no choice to dust himself up and go about ensuring his survival for as long as possible.

With a limited amount of food and water, (thankfully he doesn’t have to worry too much about air), Watney knuckles down and tackles each obstacle he faces in turn, reasoning his way though his problems.

The first and biggest issue for him to deal with is food. Even if a rescue mission were mounted immediately, his current supplies would be long gone by the time it arrived and as no one even knows he’s alive so he needs to make his supplies last even longer than that.

Luckily, in Watney’s own words he is “the best botanist on the planet”; he’s also the only botanist on the planet but that doesn’t deter him from attempting to cultivate crops on a frozen, lifeless world before moving on to working out how to replenish his water supplies, somehow get in touch with NASA and hopefully not die on Mars.

THE MARTIAN
THE MARTIAN

Like the book by Andy Weir’s upon which it based, Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard’s adaptation is a hugely entertaining science adventure, leading the audience on an emotional roller-coaster with Watney as he experiences setbacks and triumph’s, handling each obstacle using real, modern day science, while coming to terms with being the most alone person in the history of mankind.

While Watney’s calm, slow, methodical approach to survival may sound like something of a slog, the film’s main strength, as with the book, is Watney himself as he endearingly explains the science of what he’s doing to his personal video log, documents his ups and downs, complains about Commander Lewis’ stash of disco music and 70’s TV shows, his only entertainment, keeping proceedings interesting and entertaining throughout, even though he’s saddled with the restriction of mostly talking to himself.

Any time Watney’s routine threatens to become boring, either a new problem presents itself or the focus shifts to the rest of the Ares 3 crew, already homeward bound, or to NASA as they deal with the fallout of losing an Astronaut on another world.

Damon’s casting is a stroke of genius. As Jason Bourne (or Doctor Mann from Interstellar) he may physically epitomise the stereotypical, square jawed hero of space adventure, but as Watney, he’s more the perpetual goofball. The botanist, not the commander or pilot, who nonetheless epitomises one of the major characteristic required of astronauts; “The Right Stuff“. That mental and physical fortitude and grace under pressure that astronauts rely upon when faced with the life threatening circumstances that they experience in their daily lives in space.

(To get a feel for Watney and his crewmates check out the Ares 3 video logs that that feature the actors in character, in scenes that aren’t in the movie.)

Fans of the book needn’t worry, as Goddard’s script retains most of it, with Watney’s character, narration and the plot remaining mostly intact. Some of Watney’s less cinematic mishaps have been removed for time and the climax has been rearranged slightly to add more tension and provide a more dramatic payoff for certain characters but none of this hurts the story. Whilst in development however the film seems to have been tasked with the mission of re-launching the world’s enthusiasm for space exploration, so the point at which the story draws to a close has been updated, adding a little extra seemingly just to give NASA a little publicity boost. It doesn’t damage the film much but fans of the book may find it odd.

Visually, Ridley Scott shows he’s still got it, effectively realising the red planet and the NASA tech alien to it , but no less is expected from the director of Alien and Prometheus. This time around he also manages to capture Watney’s isolation and trials beautifully, whilst letting the book and script do the heavy lifting when it comes to the plot, something that very clearly didn’t happen in his last space set epic Prometheus.

Aside from Damon, great performances abound from the rest of the cast including Jeff Bridges as the head of NASA, Chewitel Ejifor as his perpetually put upon head of Mars operations, Kristen Wiig as head of Nasa PR, not to mentioned the whole Ares crew, especially Jessica Chastain as the head of the mission, lover of disco and the commander that left a man on Mars.

While not perfect The Martian is a great adventure film. It does lag somewhat at a few points but these are few and far between and are more than made up for by other sequences such as an inspiring montage accompanied by a David Bowie track, or any of Whatney’s many witty responses to new setbacks.

Try to put thoughts of Damon and Chastain’s performances in Interstellar out of your minds, The Martian may be seem less ambitious when compared to Nolan’s space opera but it excels at what it sets out to do.

Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Directed By: Ridley Scott