Martian, The (2015)

Review #1,218

Director:  Ridley Scott
Cast:  Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan
Plot:  During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew.  But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet.  With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
Awards:  Nom. for 7 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects.
Runtime:  141min
Rating:  PG13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.
Distributor:  20th Century Fox

“I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

Ridley Scott’s track record of making two sci-fi masterpieces (Alien, 1979; Blade Runner, 1982) is still intact.  I’m sure he (and we) would like to add a third title to that pantheon, but The Martian doesn’t quite come close.  The good news is that Scott’s latest is terrific entertainment, one of his best post-2000s works that would include the likes of Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001) and American Gangster (2007). 

Adapted from Andy Weir’s bestselling novel by screenwriter Drew Goddard (who wrote and directed The Cabin in the Woods (2012)), The Martian proves two things: One, a movie means nothing without a great story and a character that you can empathize and root for.  Two, this is the movie that Prometheus (2012) wished it had been. 

Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, an astronaut-botanist left behind in Mars when he was struck by debris in a fierce storm.  His close-knit crew and the entire human race back on Earth think he is dead.  So Mark wakes up in a daze, injured but alive, and finds himself alone in a foreign planet.  Well, no one can ever lay claim to that, and as he would humor you throughout the film, there are dozens of facts that he is proud to boast. 

You might be surprised how funny a blockbuster of this scale and seriousness can be.  After all, the film is about someone stuck in Mars with dwindling basic necessities, and close to zero communication.  That is as horrifying as you can get, but the view is extraordinary. 

Scott finds a magical balance of drama, spectacle and comedy, not to mention making the hard sciences seem so friendly.  Damon’s performance is endearing, and by the time things get do-or-die, we have no qualms in supporting a character we aren't afraid to love, through thick or thin air. 

The Martian moves straightforwardly, even predictably, but it is captivating throughout.  The climax is incredibly suspenseful – I literally braced myself in my seat.  It is an experience that I recall having felt when I first saw Apollo 13 (1995) when I was seven. 

Smartly-plotted and wholly embracing the value of positive thinking while being grounded in practical outcomes, The Martian is inspiring, accessible and should deserve to do well in the box-office.  Let's hope Scott's next sci-fi flick will be in the same league.  But of course there's always room for a third.

Verdict:  Ridley Scott is back with a bang in this captivating stranded-in-Mars sci-fi adventure that is a potent mix of science and thrills.  


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