By Thomas Simpson
Recent years have seen a resurgence in original sci-fi. From Gravity to Interstellar, the much loved genre has been celebrating the science within the fiction. Filmmakers are striving to make their films as scientifically accurate as possible, a prevalent trope at the forefront of The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s novel of the same name.
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is an astronaut with one major problem. He’s stranded on Mars. Part of the Ares III mission, a freak accident separates Watney from his crew who believe him to be dead. While NASA announce the tragedy to the world, Watney must find a way to create a food source and communicate with Earth. No easy task, but thankfully he is the best botanist on the planet and has no plans to give up without a fight.
The idea of a botanist cultivating crops may not seem appealing but The Martian makes it compelling. Scott knows when to leave the camera on Mars and when to speed up the story by returning to Earth to focus on NASA’s rescue efforts. There is a lot of science that may go over heads but this doesn’t interrupt the pace. It helps when you’ve a talented supporting cast of Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofo, Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean to deliver lines of complex maths.
As good as they are, the film is about Watney and Damon is superb as the marooned astronaut. He has an arrogant charm that confidently swaggers through each scene, solving one fatal problem to the next. Despite the severity of the danger throughout, Drew Goddard has kept much of Weir’s humor in his script. This is mostly saved for Watney who has no issues in delivering expletive laden rants at his bosses or exchanging friendly insults with his crew. This humanizes Watney and helps you identify with him. For all the spectacle and science, he’s an everyday man at heart.
Scott has delivered a visually stunning film that captures the desolation of Mars beautifully; it’s an endless desert that’s devastatingly impressive. The director creates a real feeling of isolation whether it be Watney on Mars, his crew on the Hermes spacecraft or the NASA officials on Earth, confined to their offices as they struggle to find a solution.
With no music on Mars other than Commander Lewis’s (Chastain) disco collection, this makes up most of the film’s soundtrack. It contrasts nicely with the initial tone and provides some light relief. By not taking itself too seriously, this proves to be one of the film’s greatest strengths. As Abba blasts over the end credits, The Martian clearly has its tongue firmly inserted in its cheek and you allow yourself a laugh for the right reasons.
If you don’t understand the science, or do and find the flaws in it, that’s not what’s important. The Martian is a character drama brilliantly told against a spectacular backdrop. Not that it’s without its fast paced thrills. The tension may slowly build throughout but it explodes in the third act with an astonishing nail-biting finale. A mesmerizing film and a sensational return to sci-fi for Scott.