A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Produced By: Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer
Written By: Drew Goddard (Screenplay), Andy Weir (Novel)
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Nowadays, it would seem that cinematic interplanetary voyages are commonplace. Director Ridley Scott’s return to the outer realms of our atmosphere has cemented his long-awaited return to form, and this time it had nothing to do with aliens, but a martian named Matt Damon.
There was a lot said about The Martian upon the release of the first trailer. The likenesses of 2014’s Interstellar were the most discussed aspect, however after finally seeing the book-to-film adaptation on the big screen, the thoughts of an Interstellar spin-off are very much entirely out of the question. This is Ridley Scott’s best film in a while, and what a blessing it is to see him return to his former glory with such a stark, dramatic-but-jovial space survivalist epic.
In a vaguely established near future, following a mission to Mars for research purposes, a crew face an imminent, threatening storm that causes them to evacuate in a hurry. Crew member Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and presumed dead amid the chaotic and severe storm and the remaining crew leave without him.
After they have left and the storm has cleared, Watney awakes to discover he has miraculously survived, however it doesn’t take him too long to realise he is alone on a desolate, uninhabitable desert planet.
Wounded, panicked and confused, Watney’s life becomes one of survival, meticulous mathematics and optimism as the skilful botanist uses his scientific ingenuity to grow crops and attempt to make contact with NASA back home on Earth.
A point of difference with The Martian is its humour. The marketing behind the film made it seem like a “Cast Away in space” affair, and to an extent it is, however the inclusion of solid, witty, casual humour really brought out another layer to the characters and the worlds they occupied.
The Martian doesn’t paint the world as a grim, bleak place where disaster reigns supreme, and in fact it exhibits it in a highly naturalistic way with mixed emotions and an underpinning of everyday life.
Frequently does the film cut back and forth between Earth and Mars, and contrary to popular opinion, the goings on within NASA as they scramble to put together a safe and fast solution for Watney’s rescue are very entertaining and do not disrupt the film in the slightest.
As far as pacing is concerned, the way the film is structured and spliced together makes for solid, gripping viewing.
The range of characters is diverse enough to work together, and modest enough as not to take away from Damon’s Watney. The only issue with the remaining cast members, or the majority of them at least, is that their characters do not require their specific services due to their limited screen time and impact to the story.
The likes of Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Michael Peña and Sean Bean make up four key examples of characters whose roles could have been played by far less noticeable faces, therefore drawing attention away from people thinking, “how little Kristen Wiig is doing in the film”.
Other familiar faces include Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who have much bigger parts to play, and do so very well. Ejiofor particularly impresses as he plays a man constantly between a rock and a hard place who manages to remain focused and calm throughout.
This leads to the other interesting point about The Martian and its characters; there isn’t an antagonist. The Martian is proof that a story doesn’t need a villain, a monster or a like-minded presence to challenge the hero, especially when it’s mortality and the elements that are Watney’s biggest threat.
The performance of Matt Damon is one of the best in a while from the esteemed talent. In a monologue performance that will challenge the likes of Ryan Reynolds in 2010’s Buried, Robert Redford in 2013’s All is Lost and even Tom Hanks in 2000’s Cast Away, Damon’s ride is anything but stable, but his encapsulation of Mark Watney is sensationally rounded and grounded.
Damon is emotionally driven, optimistic and on point with his delivery. The gradual decline and the increasing struggles of the man are strong and invigorating as the audience are taken into Watney’s world and given a front row seat.
Complete with an upbeat soundtrack and a beautiful array of shots that showcase the endlessness of Mars and Watney’s situation, a strange and risky tonal parallel is established, and it works perfectly. Scott has been able to capture isolation, devastation, progression and resolution without fault, which is indicative that the man has still got it.
The Martian as a novel seems to be a far easier story to tell. The transition in medium does not always work, and this particular story is one where time needs to pass by without jumping abruptly, and two juxtaposing stories need to be equally as engrossing as not to polarise the audience.
Furthermore, the scientific aspects of film are said to hold up for the most part which is adds another layer to the story and is one an audience can invest in. Not only has Scott achieved all of this through his ambitions, his efforts have resulted in The Martian being on the best films if 2015 and one of the best examples of a film set in space in the last decade.
A confirmed return to the top of the podium, Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a must see for any Scott, space epic fan or even comedy fan. A sensational leading performance from Damon gallantly carries the film, whilst some of the supporting casting seemed questionable and interchangeable.
A beefy survivalist drama built upon a foundation of charming comedic chops, The Martian is one of the year’s best and refreshingly toned-down redefining of the modern science fiction epic.