When a film debuts to rave reviews at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that is generally a reason to sit up and pay attention to it. The same as when a book begins with the compelling and humours line, “I’m pretty much f*%&ed. That’s my considered opinion.” Whilst you may not see what ties the two together, both examples have a certain gravitas which draws the audience in, and both relate to 20th Century Fox’s latest feature, The Martian (2015). The film, which is Ridley Scott’s third major foray into space, and quite arguably his best to date, delivers the most you could ever ask for in a movie. There’s action, suspense, heartbreak and tears, humour and jokes, and my favourite of all; sciencing the s%*t out of things. Put simply, The Martian might just be the movie of the year. Yes, there you go, I’m officially calling it.
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Martian begins with the disastrous outcome of the Ares III Mars mission. Just 18 sols (or Mars days) into their planned 31 sol exploration to the big red planet, the crew made up of Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Dr. Beck (Sebastian Stan), Tech geek Johannsen (Kate Mara), German chemist Vogel (Aksel Hennie), Flight Operator Martinez (Michael Pena), and of course Botanist, Engineer and all-round charmer Mark Watney (Matt Damon), encounter a sand storm the likes of which they’ve never seen before. Forced to abort the mission early, the crew make their way to the MAV (their rocket to get back to the Hermes ship), only for Watney, to be struck with a dislodged antenna in the process. As the stray communications device pierces his suit, taking his bio controls out with it and thus rendering him ‘lifeless’ to the crew, the Ares III team make the hard decision to leave him behind, presuming him dead. The only problem though is that… well… he isn’t. So after a short while when Watney wakes up, he finds himself not only faced with a piece of metal stuck in him, but the fact that he is alone on a planet 140 million miles away from help, with no communications, limited food, and a high possibility of dying for real. Bummer, eh.
It’s tense stuff however it is also beautifully executed, with the film jumping between two separate storylines to keep the suspense high. The main portion of the film focuses on the Cast Away (2000) style solo man saga, filled with quips, awful 70’s disco music, and danger around every bend. The second view instead brings the problem home to earth, covering the drama at NASA headquarters when they realise they’ve left someone behind on another planet. Just days after having a full military funeral for them. Well done NASA. In saying this though, the earth moments are anything but boring, nestled elegantly between the video logs of Watney discussing his Mars activities, and the longer, grander sequences of him exploring various parts of the red planet to find supplies to get home. These interweaving subplots bolster Watney’s story instead of distract from it, allowing the strong supporting actors the chance to have their moments. We see Chiwetel Ejiolfor show of his skills as Vincent Kapoor, the man in charge of the rescue operation, alongside a sarcastic and grumpy Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. There’s also a fantastic turn from Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a tweaked-out coffee addicted scientist who comes up with the most realistic and efficient plan to bring Watney home. But leading the pack would be the Ares III team, with engaging and delightful performances from Chastain, Mara, Stan, Hennie, and Pena, who help to bring the humanity of the piece home.
The movie is based off the novel by Andy Weir, and for the most part it is largely faithful to it. However, as with any great filmic adaptation some liberty has of course been taken. I mean, who would want a film that gets too stuck in the details of how cramped a Mars rover can be for 19 days, or how you can evade a sandstorm using solar panels anyway? Artfully sacrificing the brunt of the science allows the film to instead focus on the lighter, layman descriptions which give way to the heavier heart-pounding sequences. This is not to say though that there is no science. There’s plenty of it. Just not as detailed and meticulous as the book makes it out to be. In fact, the science that does feature remains incredibly and exquisitely accurate, something which fans of the book will certainly feel rewarded by. The movie walks the perilous line that approaches too much science, without ever tipping, instead utilising the compelling humanity of Watney’s moments to continually remind us that saving one man actually is worth all the risks.
Ridley Scott works his magic once more with this film. With a strong novel to go off, and an equally strong screenplay from Drew Goddard, Scott masterfully helms the piece to its current critical acclaim. The cinematography is so breathtaking that at times the film can genuinely surprise you by making you forget that we haven’t quite sent people to Mars yet. But it’s the acting that makes the film what it is. Matt Damon is back at career best with his phenomenally powerful performance as Watney. His humour hits the mark time and time again, and his vulnerability as a man 140 million miles away from home breaks through just as the film reaches its boiling point. The rumours abounding for his name come award season, are well and truly justified, and his turn might certainly have the stamina to bring some gold statues home.
It’s hard to fault anything in The Martian. It has an outstanding cast, a strong script, beautiful cinematography, strangely perfect music choice, wise direction, and a hell of a lot of heart. So I may as well not even bother. I mean, it even teaches you that duct tape can fix pretty much anything. People will inevitably ask though whether the movie just boils down to one man walking around in a space suit talking to himself? Well, honestly, yes. The movie is that. But it’s so much more too. It’s a film about retaining humanity in the face of utter despair. It’s a film about holding on to your identity when there’s no one else around to help you form it. It’s a film about getting back up once you’ve been knocked down. Simply put, in Watney’s words himself, it’s the lesson that; “I can guarantee you that at some point, everything’s going to go south on you. You’re going to say; ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that. Or you can get to work. You just have to begin.” So begin with The Martian, cause man, it’s worth it.
Rating: 5 70’s Disco Hits out of 5
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