It appears that in recent years the world of film has been really gunning for Sci-Fi epics, what with Gravity, Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, hell even Jupiter Ascending, all coming to the fore. Despite being one of the great cinematic mediums it only seems to have now gotten a new lease of life in recent years and The Martian steps forth to take that genre to a whole new level.
Based on Any Weir’s 2011 self-published novel of the same name, The Martian begins with the crew of the Ares III mission to Mars examining the planet when a huge storm hits, causing the crew’s commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) to abort the mission immediately. While Mark Watney (Matt Damon) expresses a desire to ride out the storm, Lewis is adamant and the crew begin to trek over to their spaceship in the storm. Unfortunately, during the evacuation, Watney is hit by a satellite and the crew, after attempts to find him, presume him dead and reluctantly leave their fallen comrade.
As the crew mourns the lost colleague, and NASA reveal Watney’s loss to the world, Watney awakens to the vast emptiness of Mars, still very much alive. All alone, Watney patches himself up and faces the bleak prospect of being alone on a planet where nothing grows and any help would take years to arrive. With only what was left behind, his scientific knowledge and Lewis’ terrible disco collection, Watney holds out as the planet’s only resident.
As the world has just learned that there is water on Mars, this film could not have dreamed for a better release date. But what The Martian also benefits immensely from is fantastic adaptation from its original source material. While many novels can transition effortlessly to the big screen, an equal of perhaps larger number fail abysmally to make that same conversion. The Martian, thankfully, does not fall into the latter half. Drew Goddard does wonders with an already fantastic original source, creating a tight and story focused script that both creates a sense of isolation and realism over the prospect of being stranded on a distant planet whilst also creating a lighter and more human side by injecting in witty dialogue, delightful humour and the odd pop culture reference here and there. There’s no need for any added drama, explosions or gratuitous amounts of CGI or anything to get on the way of The Martian and its mission to create a magnificent experience
But we cannot give the credit to solely Goddard or even Weir on the scripts effectiveness, with NASA putting in their fair share to make the film as scientifically accurate as possible. While nothing can be fully expected to follow true science in film (see Star-Lord saving Gamora in the vacuum of space) but the dedication to scientific practices in this film feels realistic as one can get without actually going to Mars yourself.
But having said all this, Matt Damon completely owns the role of Mark Watney. Despite the fact he is playing an astronaut and a scientist, which puts him pretty far up the intelligence scale, he comes across as an average Joe who just appears to be in a crap situation and is making the best of it. His monologues to the camera best show the type of character he is in the same way that Chuck Noland did with Wilson in Cast Away. While the comparison is an apt one, with the seriousness of their situations never too far away, Damon provides us with a bit more lightness than Hanks’ bleaker portrayal of the isolated life.
But while The Martian can arguably be re-titled The Matt Damon Show: Starring Matt Damon, the supporting cast also do a fantastic job. While the rest of the Ares III crew are not given too much time to be fully fleshed out characters, the time they do get is used to the full. The cast of those at NASA is also extremely well picked with every actor, no matter what their part’s size, play it brilliantly. But to name a few standouts Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and even the Donald Glover of Community fame all add to this film to make it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
With its concise plot, great acting and brilliant direction by Ridley Scott, especially after his last few efforts, The Martian is definitely a film that needs to be seen and seen now. The desolation, the hope, the despair, the wit and the disco all combine to make The Martian one of the best cinematic experiences of 2015.