Director Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi offering, The Martian, is a sometimes riveting, but always entertaining survival tale taking place on the red planet.
Based on the novel by Andy Weir, It stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney a botanist who is part of an exploratory mission on Mars. A sudden sandstorm causes the mission to be aborted, but Watney is struck by debris and lost in the storm. Presumed dead, Watney is left behind Mars as his fellow astronauts leave the planet.
Miraculously, Watney survives the storm and makes his way back to his expedition’s habitat. From there he uses his skills and training to live on Mars by growing food, creating water, etc. His dilemma is how to stretch out his limited supplies long enough for an eventual rescue mission that won’t happen for four years. In the meantime, NASA discovers that he is alive and is able to establish communications. With the world now aware that Watney is marooned, all attention and resources are devoted to find a way to rescue the stranded astronaut.
The Martian is a well-put together, hard sci-fi yarn that thankfully uses real science to come up with plausible means for a human to survive on Mars. The film is bolstered by a smart script by Drew Goddard and heartfelt performances not just from Matt Damon, who is the centerpiece, but by the entire cast. The Martian literally has an all-star cast which includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels and many more. They all turn in solid work and inject The Martian with needed humanity. This film unexpectedly has a human heart at its core, it isn’t dry or lifeless, and that is what makes it stand out. We see this many times with the scenes back on Earth and in the return vehicle as everyone scrambles and makes sacrifices to bring Watney home. The altruistic efforts certainly give one a pause to hope for humanity. Watney’s plight is shown to be in the film as some kind of unifying event for the world as seen by the large crowd scenes that hark back to the early Apollo missions.
It does have its issues though. It’s heart and emotion are assets, but sometimes they take away from other needed aspects. Many critics are praising its use of humor, but this film isn’t some slapstick comedy nor is it that funny. For the most part, the humor works, but it also undercuts the tension that a film like this requires. This doesn’t mean that The Martian is without any thrills, several scenes are captivating and makes audiences curl in theater seats, especially the final act. However, it could’ve used more of a gritty survival aspect that was sometimes glossed over. While audiences saw how underweight he got from lack of food and detailing his efforts to create water, it should’ve have dwelled on his isolation and boredom a lot more. It would have been a bonus to see Watney act as an explorer and let us witness the barren beauty of the red planet. Perhaps he would’ve discovered the flowing water that NASA recently discovered in real life.
Complaints aside, The Martian is an enjoyable adventure that can be enjoyed not just by sci-fi fans but by general audiences.
Lewis T. Grove