Space is always a setting that audiences can’t seem to get enough of and why would they? As the famous Star Trek saying goes, it’s the final frontier. It’s breath of mysterious gives hollywood film makers extreme latitude to flex their creative muscles. Chris Nolan’s Interstellar and Alfonso Cuarón Gravity may have given the genre a long over due boost, and Ridley Scott’s The Martian is looking to continue the momentum. Based on the best-selling book by Andy Weir of the same name. It chronicles the story of a lone astronaut stuck on Mars. The Martian is a powerful film about dealing with adversity using a broad spectrum of human emotion : courage, fear, optimistic, desperation and despair. It’s a strong work of fiction with a strong base in some real science, which gives the film a distinct edge. Your not expecting space magic to save the day, just good old fashion human problem solving.
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is a member of a six member astronaut team surveying mars dubbed the Ares 3 team. On the 17th sol (A day on mars), the team is faced with an emergency situation. A storm is coming in, and the conditions force the team to abort the mission early and proceed back to earth. During the evacuation, Watney is struck by debris. His suit sensors malfunction and with no visible confirmation of his whereabouts. The team assumes him dead and departs the planet without him. Watney awakens the next day and after immediately addressing his injuries is left to contemplate the fact that he is now stranded on Mars alone. With his communications also damaged in the storm, he has no way to communicate with NASA. He realizes his only chance for survival is to hold out until the next manned Mars mission in 4 years. Fortunately, Watney is a botanist and thinks he can manage a way to grow food on a planet that can’t sustain life.
With the vastness that space can offer, The Martian has an incredible hold on scope. The story correctly just focuses on the challenges Watney faces as he tries to survive, which happen to be ample in occurrences and magnitude. Which is great because that is exactly what you would expect and came to see. Matt Damon does an amazing job leading this mostly one man show, injecting the role with the right amount of charisma, humor and frustration. Watney spends the majority of the film talking to himself as he records video diary entries of his trials. This serves as some great character exposition and an even better means of keeping the audience up to speed with whats going on. It’s safee to say most people aren’t astronauts and/or experts on space travel. So Watney constantly updating and explaining really help maintain the pace and keep audience informed but not lectured.
In alot of ways, The Martian is very predictable. You know when you sit down that the movie isn’t going to subject you to its long run time of 2+ hours for the main protagonist to die a lonely death. You know, he will eventually get in contact with NASA. You know, his crew is going to find a way to be involved. You know, he is going to make it back to earth. The beauty is, knowing doesn’t matter, your just mostly concerned about the how. This is where Ridley Scott does an amazing job with the pace, keeping every scene interesting and not going over board on melodrama or suspense.
The rest of the cast pulls off a solid job. His team is filled with a talented bunch including and not limited to : Micheal Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and the over cast of the year in Jessica Chastain as Captain Lewis. Nobody is casting Chastain as the captain of any failed mission, so if you needed more clues to this story ending happily look no further. The rest of the cast keeps their feet on earth and pull off looking and sounding like the smartest people in the room. They deal with a whole other array of issues centered around the mounting pressure of rescuing someone from an almost impossible situation. Everyone is invested in getting Mark Watney home, even if they don’t all necessarily have the same reason as to why.
Ultimately, The Martian will be remembered as an excellent adaptation of an already excellent book. While it shoots pretty straight for the duration of its run time, the experience and story do not suffer because of it. You’ll be alert and invested for the entire film.