‘I’ve gotta science the shit out of this!”
The Martian is better than both Interstellar and Gravity. Whilst both of the latter films tried admirably, but failed, in their ambition, Ridley Scott has succeeded in translating Andy Weir’s thrilling, tense and funny novel to the big screen. In fact, this is Ridley Scott’s best movie for years.
Disco-hating Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of Ares 3, a manned mission to Mars. On Sol 18 (solar Martian Day 18) a fierce storm hits the base so Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) tells Watney and the four other crew members to evacuate. However, on the short distance from the Hub to the ship, Watney is impaled by an antenna and separated from the group. Watney’s vital signs indicate that he is dead so the devastated crew leave without him. But Watney in fact wakes up to find himself stranded on Mars – with meagre supplies and no means of contacting anyone he must use his wits, brains and ingenuity to survive.
There are so many features of this film that make it the true success it really is. Firstly, the incredibly talented ensemble cast. Along with Damon and Chastain, there is a who’s who of exceptional skill – Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover amongst the most recognisable. Unusually for a cast of this size there are no weak links. In part due to their talent, but also due to the solidity and sharpness of the source material. All of the characters are given their moment to shine and develop; possessing mannerisms and relationships that make them feel real. Of course, in this regard, it is Damon who shines brighter than the rest. He makes Watney so truly likeable it would be impossible not to root for him; this ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.. It’s easy to imagine that there will be audiences in the States stood in their seats in either tension or cheer, pushing him on. His reactions seem so real – who wouldn’t swear in frustration at the circumstances that are thrown at him? His unflappability (A – Who knew that was even a word?!? and B- It’s an adjective that exactly describes his character) is crucial to this relatability. Unlike many other recent films that are about space or even science fiction in general we are often faced with characters who panic in moments of crisis. Watney, and the other characters, are scientists and leaders of their respective fields so it shouldn’t be surprising that they can come up with solutions (which my favourite physicist-friend advises me were utterly terrifying for him to watch!)
Secondly, there’s the soundtrack. As you, hopefully, identified from the above plot summary, Watney hates disco. And, can you guess what genre of music is the only kind left behind in the Hub..? (If you can’t guess I am judging you massively at the this point). Watney finds himself in such Dire Straits (hah, semi-accidental music pun) that he must subject himself to a disco-themed soundtrack – something he does not do willing or without bitching massively about. Every disco classic is so carefully apt to the moment it plays. So much so that it’ll be hard to listen to ‘Hot Stuff’ by Donna Summer without thinking of Watney’s haphazard handling of plutonium. Thirdly, the pace and storytelling is so skilful that the 140 minute running time doesn’t drag nearly as much as it could have done consequently creating a tone that is both epic yet playful.
The film remains as equally entertaining, appealing and refreshing from start to finish. The next space-themed movie has a lot to beat…