Do you remember when you used to go to gigs, get drunk and then, due to situations beyond your control, you ended up missing the last bus/train/ having no money for a cab and being stuck in some horrible town centre waiting for a rescue from mom/dad/or the morning bus? That is pretty much what happens to Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in The Martian.
Both Mars, and Ridley Scott have been subjects of press speculation over the last week or so. As I write this, NASA are preparing a press conference to make a major announcement about the “Red Planet” – I am guess on something to do with water… Last week Ridley Scott was staking his claim to some serious plot-losing with a series of garbled interviews about his Alien prequel Prometheus and its many parts and something to do with the poet Milton…
The Martian blurs that line between did happen and could happen. It offers a more plausible scenario than Gravity and steps up the visual engagement from Apollo 13. For a good length of the movie we are focussed on Watney and his methodical approach to a potentially insurmountable problem. This could be the point at which the whole film falls apart, and yet it doesn’t. Scott, the director is a very capable world-builder. He may not get it 100% every time (as many of Prometheus‘ detractors will attest) but here he gives us Mars, the red/dead planet, as a challenge. There are no alien threats, and no hints at monsters lurking behind doors. The threat here is the enormity of the challenge. The fear is the lack of anything beyond ingenuity and human perseverance to survive.
Matt Damon has spoken about his lack of desire to play the traditional hero, instead preferring to be the character to whom things happen. He is a good choice of actor for Watney and he plays it with an endearing subtlety of touch. That is not to say that he is boring – far from it, we get characterisation through the use of video-logging (with some good product placement for go-pro…)
Like a lot of Ridley Scott films, the focus is on the human spirit and the reactions to situations that define us. There is the conflict of logical action versus the emotional need which shifts slowly through the film, especially in the representation of the NASA ground crew.
The Martian has a strong cast beyond Damon; Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mackenzie Davis shine out as the heart of the space program in Mission Control.
At nearly 2 1/2 hours, this is not a short movie. It sustains your interest throughout and the pacing is spot on. The 3D is not painful and doesn’t play at depth for depth sake.
Should you go?
Having only read reviews of the source material book (by Andy Weir) which grumble about the lack of action, I would say that this is not an issue with The Martian as a film. It is a pretty tense ride – interspersed with dialogue which never drops into the hack.
It takes between 150 and 300 days to reach Mars. The Martian doesn’t feel that long. 8.5 out of a possible warp factor of 10.
John doesn’t have any desire to go to Mars. He has trouble being motivated to go to Birmingham. Mrs L thinks that being an astronaut is a poor career choice. We both have the utmost respect for anyone who is crazy enough to go into space.
If you fancy reading the book then here is an affiliate link to Amazon – if you use it then I get a little commission too.