Prometheus was Ridley Scott’s latest and last Sci-Fi effort set in space, and it was quite a marvel. He follows it up with this adaptation of Andy Weir’s fantastic novel, The Martian. It’s an ambitious effort to turn a story that I believe to be far more suited to a book form into something that we can marvel at on the big screen. With an all star cast including Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sean Bean, it certainly had the pieces. So just how did this incredible story translate to the silver screen?
Let me start by saying that Ridley Scott knows how to make a beautiful movie. Prometheus was visually dazzling in 3D, with it’s vast landscapes and wide shots combined with detailed sets and technology. The Martian takes this to another level. As the camera pans around the red planet we see some absolutely fantastic and desolate views, filled with detail and vastness as the same time. It’s quite a wonder to behold and it really mesmerizes you on it’s own, before you even think about the actual action and drama that’s taking place.
That being said, the film is made with it’s protagonist and his unbelievably nightmarish situation. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist and astronaut who is a member of the crew that is performing a mission to Mars. The crew includes it’s leader, played by Jessica Chastain, as well as Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan and Askel Hennie. When a terrible storm rolls in, Watney is lost and presumed dead, and the crew is forced to leave him. Of course, he was not dead, but he may as well be. Mars and its infamous lack of habitability is no place for a human with limited resources. This wonderfully thought out scenario sets the scene for some of the most awesome and engrossing science ever seen in cinema.
Damon is fantastic as the resourceful Watney, as he decides that he must act fast, knowing that his resources will only last him a portion of the time he’ll need to survive, before any rescue attempt could happen. Watching him find a way to create water, or grow crops on a planet where nothing can grow, sounds like a bore. But it’s just fantastic. It’s engrossing, and done in a way where the science can hold up for the most part, adding a wonderful and inspiring level of realism to it all. As new challenges and heartbreaks hit him, we watch him wear down but we also watch him soldier on and it’s just great cinema.
Meanwhile, the drama back on earth is also a highlight as Ejiofor and Daniels do great work, showing us to tough politics and hard decisions that accompany this dire situation. It’s a nice little breather from the action on Mars and helps mix things up a little. A lot of the humor is found here too, and humor is a great strength of The Martian. It keeps things pretty light, in a lovable way rather than a silly way. I think this is important, as it prevents the heavy material from getting dry. Damon provides some of the films funniest moments also, as he makes the most of his awful situation, interacting with his video log.
The only aspect of the film which I felt was not quite as effective was the screen time for Watney’s crew. Of course they play a vital role in the proceedings, but their limited screen time and lack of character development had them lost in the shuffle a little for me. The acting on their part is great, as you’d expect from that group, but they just don’t really develop and despite their high importance to the plot, it was hard to get fully engrossed in them. The talents of someone like Jessica Chastain are usually used to a bit more affect. That being said, a lesser actress may have done even less with the role.
The film is not exactly action heavy, as most of the thrills come in the form of awesome science, as I’ve mentioned. However, there are some moments, especially near the end, and these moments are done well. The intensity is generally high, and where The Martian is different is that it doesn’t try to awe you with too much over the top spectacle. Some of the scenarios may be unlikely, but they keep them within the realm of realism. This lessens the impact in one sense, but for most it will just enhance the experience as it did for me.
The Martian is a wonderful film, that is beautiful visually and a unique and incredibly engrossing experience. The science is the star in many ways, but the acting and writing are equally brilliant. If you aren’t rooting for Mark Watney then quite frankly I don’t think you can call yourself a functioning human. There are a couple aspects of the film that seemed a bit wasted, but overall this is certain to be considered one of the years best films.