Making a film that deals with space travel is no mean feat. But when you have veteran filmmaker Ridley Scott at the helm-the man behind sci-fi hits like ALIEN (1979) and PROMETHEUS (2012)-one expects nothing but the best. Does Scott’s latest film THE MARTIAN deliver what it promises to be? Let’s analyze.
Based on Andy Weir’s novel by the same name, THE MARTIAN outlines the fanciful journey of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is presumed dead and left behind on a manned mission to Mars when a storm hits the crew. However, Watney survives the storm and finds himself stranded on the hostile planet, long after his shuttle has taken off. With limited supplies and an iron will to survive, he draws up a plan to feed himself, stay alive and make contact with NASA until the next mission lands on Mars. Does his farfetched plan succeed? Do his crewmates come and get him? This forms the premise of the film.
The film opens with a visual treat of the dizzying landscapes of Mars, as the crew of the Aries Three mission comprising Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) and Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan) along with Watney are collecting samples of the red soil. In the interim, the four are warned by Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) and Rick Martinez (Michael PeÃ±a) that an approaching storm has intensified. Ditching the mission, they head back to the safety of the shuttle; however Watney is hit by debris that punctures his suit and whisks him away. The crewmates presume he’s dead and reluctantly take off.
When Watney wakes from his concussion and makes his way back to the HAB (their base on Mars), he’s well aware that the next mission is years away. He begins to take stock of the resources, only to find out that they will run out much before the Aries Four mission lands. Astonishingly, he finds the drive to survive and give fate a chance. Using his skills as a botanist, a scientist and an astronaut, he draws up a detailed plan to maximize his limited resources and travel to the Aries Four landing site. Months later, the crewmates learn of his existence and are confronted with a decision-should they turn around and get him back, risking their own lives?
Director Ridley Scott, who has over the years enthralled us with his vision in films like GLADIATOR, AMERICAN GANGSTER, BODY OF LIES, and ROBIN HOOD is back after a rather dull response to his earlier release, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. In fact, with THE MARTIAN, Scott firmly develops the story to a crescendo with a brilliant yet tongue-in-cheek climax. Despite the film being all but an easy task, Ridley manages to infuse the narrative with brief moments of humour that combine well with the rather dire certainty of a man facing imminent death.
While Matt’s portrayal of Watney as the lost cause initially tugs a few emotional strings, his jovial approach to a serious problem does diminish the overall fear of him dying-in turn, reducing the ‘gravity’ of the situation. You almost wish you’d empathize with him a little bit more.
That said, Matt does well to live up his character, quite literally adding ‘life’ and colour to a fated role. Although it feels like he has been overly endowed with scientific skills and luck, he manages to convince the viewer that it’s all fate, really. Jeff Daniels does a good job as the head of NASA, Teddy Sanders, who is left with making the ultimate decisions and having to face the backlash when things go wrong. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor is convincing as he plays the link between NASA and the shuttle builders, being able to negotiate and pull strings. Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson is limited to the little screen space. The rest of the cast is good, but since the entire film is told through Watney’s eyes, he truly is the hero of the film.
On the whole, if you like sci-fi films that boast of a great story line, gripping narrative, stellar performances and awe-inspiring visuals, THE MARTIAN is a must-watch.