During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
Ridley Scott needs little introduction, other than possibly to say that after three decades of doing other kinds of films he seems to have rediscovered a love of science/fiction, with Prometheus in 2012, The Martian in 2015, and Alien: Paradise Lost scheduled for 2017.
The Martian is based on the book of the same name by author Andy Weir, with a screenplay by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, and World War Z). It follows the tale of astronaut Mark Watney becoming stranded on Mars, and his efforts to survive as long as possible in the hopes of being rescued.
From the opening scene the level of production value in this film is instantly noticeable, and it’s no surprise. Ridley Scott has the ability to raise significant levels of finance for his films and it shows. The Martian is a beautiful looking film, with wonderful looking landscapes, tangible sets, props, costumes, everything about this film looks excellent. The barren wasteland where so much of this film takes place is gorgeous to look at.
Story wise of course it’s pretty straight forward, with a sci/fi context it essentially boils down to a human vs environment survival story that could take place anywhere. But the devil is in the detail and Drew Goddard’s script along with Ridley Scott’s direction make the most out of simplistic scenarios as they detail out the problems facing Watney, and explore his responses to them with a blend of exposition, humour and drama all of which is intriguing and engaging to watch.
Watney spends most of his time on screen alone, he’s primary concerns are growing food, gathering water and keeping warm and all of this is made interesting to watch.
With all that said overall the film is a slow burn, the second act in particular. While never losing interest, the pacing of the film does slow significantly to its detriment at times. This is largely a result of what’s going on back on earth as opposed to the Mars story arc, with many different characters involved in various plot threads relating to possible rescue solutions.
The issue here is that we’re introduced to too many characters with little context, and too many threads that tend to take away from where the film excels. There’s some really interesting character engagement taking place on earth, but it could have been tightened up. Sean Bean and Jeff Daniel’s characters deliver the best scenes in this respect, taking characters which could have been empty shells and bringing something extra to their roles.
The success of this film rests largely on Matt Damon’s shoulders, and his performance is brilliant to watch. He articulates the highs and lows of his character’s emotional journey, and still capitalises on the comedic elements. Beyond Damon, the highlights are both Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean, but overall the cast remains strong, including Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It was also fun to see a great character performance from Donald Glover in a smaller support role.
The Martian isn’t a flawless film, but it’s an expertlycrafted tale with strong writing, performances, and superb production values. The sound engineering, visual effects, and practical sets all blend really well and tell an intriguing story.
I’m giving The Martian 8 out of 10 stars, it’s currently showing in cinemas everywhere.