With The Martian, Ridley Scott takes us back into outer space. Given that his previous excursion in that direction was the much anticipated, but decidedly underwhelming Prometheus, there are many out there who didn’t have great hopes for this movie. Happily, their fears are unfounded, because this is the best Ridley Scott movie in a very long time.
Based on Andy Weir’s recent bestseller, it’s the story of Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who during a manned mission to Mars is caught up in a violent storm and knocked for six by a flying projectile. After a desperate search for him, his fellow crew members, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) come to the assumption that he must be dead and make a hasty exit in the direction of earth. But Watney isn’t dead. He wakes up several hours later with a nasty wound to his stomach and the awful realisation that he is totally alone on a planet that is millions of miles away from home. When the people at NASA finally learn of his situation, the decision is taken not to inform the other members of his crew of his plight for fear they will ‘lose concentration’ on their journey home. Watney is, to put it mildly, in a bit of a pickle. It will be four years before a rescue mission can me mounted and he only has enough food for around a month. If he’s to survive, he will have to (to use his own words) ‘Science the shit out of this.’
What follows is a fascinating and captivating couple of hours as Watney works out a complex plan to stay alive, starting with the idea of growing potatoes planted in the packaged human waste from the expedition’s toilet. Meanwhile, there’s an even more serious problem. The only music available to listen to is Lewis’s collection of disco hits circa 1980 – he may go stark raving mad before help arrives.
Damon is always an appealing performer and he’s perfect for the wisecracking, plucky Mark Watney. You’re rooting for him from the word ‘go,’ and as his position becomes ever more precarious, you feel every setback as keenly as he does. As the story moves on and his crew mates finally learn of his situation, proceedings metamorphose into a complex rescue mission, which results in an absolutely nail biting climax. What’s more, there are all the tropes we’ve come to expect from Ridley Scott – magnificent cinematography (with Wadi Rum in Jordan standing in for Mars), a fabulous soundtrack utilising the delights of Abba and vintage David Bowie, plus the absolute conviction that no matter how far fetched the story becomes, its backed up by a wealth of detail, enough to convince you that this really could happen. It’s ironic that I’m reviewing this film on the very day that NASA will announce a ‘major discovery on Mars.’ I appreciate that Scott always puts aside a huge budget for publicity, but that may be going too far!
Scott, by the way, is pressing on with his production of Prometheus Two, so he isn’t quite giving up on outer space just yet. But The Martian is definitely a keeper. Watch it on the big screen and yes, for once, it’s actually worth booking for the 3D showing, because those vast, alien landscapes really are out of this world.