- RatedPG13 /GenreScience Fiction
A man stranded on Mars?
The story has been done many times before - in ‘A Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), ‘Stranded’ (2001) as well as numerous like-minded stories about the solitary man in the vast reaches of space like in ‘Moon’ (2009) as well as the recent ‘Gravity’ (2013) ‘Interstellar’ (2014).
But what sets ‘The Martian’ apart is that it is steeped in science-fact as much as it is in science-fiction. And how serendipitous that the film is released the same week that NASA announced that there is evidence of water on Mars.
While Alfonso Cuaron’s and Christopher Nolan’s two efforts are films that are conceptual and groundbreaking in its ambitions; Ridley Scott’s take on a book by Andy Weir is grounded and in a sense… pragmatic in its approach -- a far cry from the veteran filmmaker’s recent space jaunt that was ‘Prometheus’.
That said, ‘The Martian’ is the best thing that either Scott and lead actor Matt Damon have done in years.
For his third trip into space (after ‘Elysium’ and his unbilled supporting role in ‘Interstellar’), Damon spends around 75 percent of the two-hour-plus film on screen alone.
The story is set in the near present and follows Mark Watney, an American astronaut who’s left behind for dead on Mars by his crew (Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie) after they begin the long journey back to Earth following a storm that forces them to abort their mission.
Rather than just giving up, Mark is resolute in staying alive. The hard part is stretching his limited food supply until the scheduled arrival of another Mars mission four years in the future, since he has no way of communicating to Earth that he’s still alive.
Fortunately, he is a botanist, and a very smart one at that, MacGyver-ing his way to survival by creating a greenhouse and generating extra water to nourish his crop of potatoes.
He also eventually figures out a way to re-establish contact with Earth using the technology of the 1996 Mars Pathfinder probe.
As supplies rapidly dwindle after facing a series of trying incidents, Mark struggles on his own until his crew-members on the Hermes space-craft are tasked to bring him home, but at a great risk to themselves.
This is perhaps one of Matt Damon’s best performances in a while. What is fascinating about his portrayal of the stranded astronaut is the character’s resolve, heart and determination; something that was missing from Scott’s ‘Prometheus’.
Damon’s Mark is made more likable by his American can-do attitude and self-effacing humour that makes him very sympathetic -- you just want him to live and be rescued.
There are no distracting subplots or parallel threads here -- just that one mission to rescue an astronaut. Author Andy Weir with scribe Drew Goddard wrote a straightforward script with the verbosity of ‘Gravity’ and ‘Interstellar’ -- you don’t feel that you’re talked down here.
Even the scientific jargon here is conveyed simply and doesn’t make your head spin.
Damon is surrounded by a host of A-list stars that provide support on back on Earth and in space; from Jessica Chastain’s mission commander Melissa Lewis, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s bookish Vincent Kapoor who leads the rescue mission back home and Kristen Wiig who does what she does best, injecting a dose of humour as a NASA spin doctor.
While straightforward, ‘The Martian’ is an intelligent film, smartly packed into an entertaining package in a period where there is a dearth of great movies.
‘The Martian’ opens 1 October 2015