"No matter what happens, tell the world, tell my family, that I never stopped fighting to make it home."Ridley Scott may be one of the most talented directors working today, but based on some of his weaker films he lacks a good eye for a great script. ‘Prometheus’ was beautifully shot and amazingly staged, but had a few too many plot holes, irregularities and existential speeches for me to overlook. Then ‘Exodus’ just scratched the surface of its interesting story despite being, once again, stunningly filmed. With ‘The Martian’ however, Scott has applied his talent to a superb script to create something very special indeed.
A NASA team must abort their mission on Mars when a storm hits their base, but in the evacuation process one crew member Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind. Stranded alone on Mars he must use his limited resources to survive, as well as finding a way to let NASA know that he’s still alive. Meanwhile on Earth his team and his colleagues must play politics to mount a rescue mission.
Can I just start by stating how amazing this cast is? People that I didn’t even know were in this film, and they are all spectacular. Let me list the biggest names, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover (but sadly no Abed to accompany him).
A bigger surprise though, may come from how outright entertaining ‘The Martian’ is. There is a sense of isolation and fear but above all of that there is a prolonged sense of hope and optimism, battling the odds and urge for survival, things that people claim to be present in ‘Gravity’, but the difference is that not only do they actually exist here, it’s also funny. While it would have been very easy to make a depressing film about someone stranded millions of miles away from any other human, the comedic moments shine through and are numerous.
That is not to say that it lacks any drama, there are still plenty of those moments as well. At one point Watney must pick shrapnel out of his body without proper surgical equipment or anesthetic and the intensity is frankly terrifying, on its own that would not be as frightening, but because his humor allows us to connect with Watney and admire him, and care about him we are left in constant suspense whenever he is in danger or risks not making it home, and that happens quite a lot. Dramatic moments seem more serious due to their contrast with comedy, and then the humor seems funnier due to its contrast with the drama.
Not to say that Watney is portrayed as an invulnerable superhuman though, there are times when you feel the weight of his ordeal, signs that he wants to break, to give in and loose hope. You urge on with him and feel every small loss, like losing the tiniest of supplies or celebrate with every victory like growing food from fertilizer taken from the waste disposal unit of the base. This role combines everything we like about Matt Damon, his charm, his wit, his ability to be dramatic, intelligent and resourceful and his action caliber as well, all come into play.
Under Scott’s direction the wastelands of mars are shot and captured exquisitely. This is a beautiful looking film and with every great Ridley Scott movie, it is the details that make it unique. He is such a fantastic builder of worlds that not only are you drawn into the futuristic vision, you believe it as if it has already happened, like it is chronicled in history and engrained in your memory. This is all assisted by Drew Goddard’s wonderfully inventive screenplay (Goddard also helped write ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ alongside Joss Whedon). If you want more evidence of the movies playful nature, its soundtrack consists mostly of disco music like ‘Rock the Boat’ and ‘Hot Stuff’ as it is the only music available to Watney in the base courtesy of his crew mate’s abandoned laptop.
A new tone on the Robinson Crusoe story with superb directing, performances of the highest order and a fantastic script. A science fiction classic is born, and another great film from Ridley Scott.