Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels
When details of Ridley Scott’s latest venture into the sci-fi genre were first released, and as clips, images and more details filtered through, I was excited to say the least. I would go as far as to say that this was possibly one of the top 5 most anticipated movies of the year for me. That anticipation owes just about everything to the amazing cast on board, and the promise of an interesting story and a visual spectacle. I could only really get excited when I forced myself to ignore the fact that Ridley Scott – a director I’m really not a fan of – was in charge of the mission. But I’m not one to hold a grudge, I genuinely hoped that Scott could pull it out of the bag with ‘The Martian’ and change my opinion on his directorial skills.
We’ve been inundated with details about the plot behind ‘The Martian’ actually, and as technical as space travel is, this story is pretty simple. A crew of astronauts encounter a vicious storm on Mars, and are forced to abort their mission. Unfortunately, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by a satellite during the storm and is presumed dead by his fellow crew members, who leave the planet and head home. But Mark survived the storm, and must fend for himself on the red planet, growing food, producing water and trying desperately to contact NASA to arrange a rescue. When he does, it’s up to Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of the Hermes crew to turn their ship around and bring back their missing astronaut.
Whilst the supporting cast get much more attention than I first expected, Matt Damon is the leading star in this production. He portrays a lonely, desperate, but strong-willed survivor brilliantly and very convincingly. It may sound absurd, but at times I literally forgot I was watching Matt Damon and viewed him more as a separate entity; the character of Mark Watney was very much alive. Amongst the Hermes crew, which boasted the likes of Sebastian Stan and Kate Mara, only Jessica Chastain carried any real authority or presence, and my existing appreciation of her work has been elevated on this showing. Back on planet Earth, Chiwetel Ejiofor adds another sharp performance to his growing reputation, whilst comedy actors Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels really surprised me in pulling out great dramatic displays which prove they’re not just in it for the laughs.
It is with great pleasure that I can actually discuss positive aspects of a Ridley Scott film, rather than unleashing a stream of criticisms à la my ‘Blade Runner’ review. Visually, as you would imagine, ‘The Martian’ is quite exceptional. The vast landscapes of planet Mars were spectacular and gave a real impression of loneliness, mixed with an endearing beauty. In space too, during the scenes where the Hermes crew attempt to rescue Watney, there were many a tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s vision in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, as well as a rather artistically presented reunion between Commander Lewis and Watney. In terms of audio, a mix of popular culture disco tracks and expertly composed scores add an unusual yet effective atmosphere to proceedings.
However, whilst I enjoyed the inclusion of classic tunes like ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Star Man’ and the odd joke here and there, this juxtaposition kinda threw me off a little. I was more interested in watching something in the way of a disaster movie, and as strange as it sounds, I was eager to witness some peril and real danger. I feel like the tone of the film was hindered and confused by the light-hearted references and humorous quips, and whilst I’m aware a lot of people enjoyed these aspects, I was not impressed on the whole. I regard these as almost short-term boosts to drag the film along, which have very little effect on giving ‘The Martian’ any kind of longevity. I doubt I would watch it again, anyway.
Overall, ‘The Martian’ is definitely worth a watch. It was an interesting enough story and the experience was enjoyable, but one which lacked any tangible excitement or tension. This felt like more of an informative biopic than a thrilling space journey, which is all well and good, as long as you fix your expectations beforehand. Ridley Scott has redeemed himself, ever so slightly, with ‘The Martian’. But the curse of anticipation strikes again, with a film I had hoped would be epic, proving to be no more than a pretty good entry into the sci-fi genre.