The Martian

Out of This World

There are people out there, somewhere, that thought that thought the Martian was based on a true story. No, really, you can see it here.

The above is either a testament to the endless stupidity of humans or a testament to how well scripted and directed The Martian is – I haven’t decided yet.

Let’s assume it’s the latter because let’s face it, this is an amazing film. Is it Ridley Scott’s best film? Probably not, but it is definitely up there with a fighting chance and is a return to form after a number of lacklustre films such as Exodus, The Counsellor, Prometheus and Robin Hood.

What makes this film so good is unquestionably the script. At any one point in time Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is, in his words, “sciencing the shit out of this” but don’t worry; no audience member is left behind because of a lack of understanding of scientific principles.

 

Watney religiously keeps a video log which gives you enough science to make everything he is doing seem viable in real life. As an example he makes water by using hydrazine (rocket fuel) to create hydrogen gas, which is then combusted to create a by product of water.

Sure, I didn’t understand a lot of the science but most things are also explained in layman’s terms such as making fertile land by mixing martian soil and human waste as a fertiliser. This means that even the people who think this film is based on a true story can understand it. In fact it is exactly the reason why they think it actually happened in real life.

At no point does the script feel padded out to fill time yet it also doesn’t overreach itself by trying to do too much. Writer Drew Goddard is surely up for an Oscar nomination for his input.

There is, however, one downfall to such a methodical and grounded approach in that there is perhaps too little dramatisation. There is only ever one or two moments where Watney ever seems in danger so at times it can feel a little flat.

Still, the flip side of Watney not being in danger is that he keeps high spirits all the way through the film making it consistently enjoyable to watch. Matt Damon puts in a great performance to bring Watney to life as a loveable but highly intelligent clown.

This is perhaps not as true for the supporting cast. Watney’s original crew, who left Mars without him, play an integral role in his rescue but their screentime is all too short to get a feel for who they are as people. There are only 5 of them but I wonder if the film put more attention on only 2 or 3 of them, leaving the others as just generic background engineers/crew, that this would afford more time to depict a team mentality and for us to care more about them.

It’s a similar story with the NASA ground crew on earth. Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) gets a decent amount of screen time to show that he is the brains and the drive behind the operation to bring Watney back but that isn’t so true with Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels). Teddy is the head of NASA so he obviously has a million and one demands on his shoulders but this is never really shown or explained in detail so his quick and at times obstructive decision making make him look a dismissive and uncaring villain. Perhaps that was the intention?

Still, the supporting cast shouldn’t be a concern when the main focus is, of course, on Matt Damon in my mind there was only downside to his character. The longer Watney is on Mars the more weight he loses but this is only obvious in a handful of chosen shots where a bony body walks past the camera. This is clearly a body double that is made all the more obvious when you see Matt Damon’s face that simply doesn’t match the gaunt look of the double. It is, by no means, as convincing as Christian Bale in the Machinist for example.

Both the final frontier and Ridley Scott’s recent poor form have been conquered in the Martian. It really is a fantastic film that will make you realise that firstly, terra firma is a nice place to rest your feet and secondly that the events in The Martian could have been based on a true story.

P.S. It wasn’t… idiots!

Go See

  • The fantastic script
  • Matt Damon
  • One of Ridley Scott’s best films

Avoid

  • Missing some dramatic beats
  • Often bland supporting crew
  • Malnutrition scenes

Overall

4-5-stars

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