The Martian

2015 – USA

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica ChastainChiwetel Ejiofor

Words: C. Abbott

Even the most avid follower of Ridley Scott’s recent work would be hard pressed to defend the sliding quality of his filmography. Yet it is true that in nearly all of his work, he has an eye for a shot like no other. From the science fiction milestone of Blade Runner to the narrative torpor of Exodus: Gods and Kings, the cinematography has been a shining beacon within Hollywood.  Scott is a filmmaker that struggles to distinguish a great script from a poor one. When he finds the right one, the results are always gratifying.  

Set vaguely around 30 years from present day. We follow a team of astronauts on a manned mission to Mars. That is until a catastrophic storm forces the mission to see an abrupt end. However botanist Mark Watney is left stranded, alone, with nothing but the prospect of years of isolation and survival.

What we are left with is a film that plays as a Robinson Crusoe style tale of overcoming the seemingly impossible. Cast Away in space, with sprinklings of Moon, Gravity and Interstellar to boot.  Watching Watney figure out how to survive a mounting series of obstacles is as entertaining as it is intriguing. The real meat of the story is found here. Where it lacks is the story back on Earth. We follow NASA as it tries to juggle the media and a make shift rescue back to Mars. The back and forth between Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jeff Daniels is its saving grace. But time and again we see shoddy attempts at tension building with dramatic pauses and implausible character interaction. One character in particular played disappointingly by Donald Glover makes you yearn for the isolated dunes of Mars. Yet all this is secondary to the performance of Matt Demon, easily one of his most enjoyable and engaging in years. His charisma powers the narrative forward, sometimes to a distracting degree but never annoying. He makes you root for his man, he makes you desperately want to see him make it home and that is the most commendable part of this film.

While it is true Drew Goddard’s screenplay or Andy Weirs novel is the backbone to this films accessibility, Ridley Scott does also deserve credit and it’s been too long since that can be said. He truly succeeds in capturing the emptiness and scale of this alien world.  A film that takes place entirely in a sea of orange sand sounds like it would become tiresome to look at. But Scott manages to retain the sense of awe and excitement of exploring a new world should instil. That being said George Millar did achieve similar earlier this year by making endless desert consistently gorgeous. However he had the help of a lot more adrenaline that comes with muscle cars and explosions.

If nothing else this film should be seen to help reinvigorate a quality in humanity that this generation can’t participate in. Exploration. It’s time we headed to the stars, and Mars is the first outpost of many. As the films sees people put aside differences to aid Watney, we need to do the same and push into the final frontier. Interstellar wet our appetites for the stars and The Martian is continuing this resurgence of general fascination. For this reason, this is a film to see, enjoy and respect.