Fred Duval/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) — Director Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a terrific movie based on Andy Weir’s stimulating, science-based novel about an astronaut and botanist named Mark Watney who finds himself stranded on Mars.
In a genius bit of casting, Scott and friends chose Matt Damon to play Watney. Of course, the guy who played Will Hunting would be able to make Watney, a bit of a smartass who has to “science the s***” out of his situation in order to survive, exceedingly believable.
In the world of The Martian, we’ve been sending manned missions to Mars for several years. Watney’s crew, consisting of Jessica Chastain as Captain Lewis, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, is the third such mission. When a catastrophic Martian storm hits and they’re making their way back to the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle), Watney’s struck by a communications satellite, a blow that both knocks him unconscious and carries him too far from the MAV to be recovered. Lewis has only seconds to decide whether to try to find Watney, who’s seemingly dead, or save her entire crew. She picks the crew.
Back on Earth, NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) delivers the news to the world: Mark Watney is dead. Back on Mars, however, Watney’s injured, but alive — for now.
It’s going to be another four years until the next astronauts show up. The good news is, Watney has all of the crew’s provisions at his disposal. The bad news: it’s not enough to sustain him for four years. Watney’s challenge is relying on his brain and his will to figure out how to survive. He’s a botanist, so he knows how to grow things. The challenge for Scott, Damon and friends is keeping Watney’s story of Martian isolation interesting.
Enter the use of GoPro cameras, which are positioned all over the HAB (habitat) in a way that feels perfectly natural. Watney’s video logs also feel organic, and necessary for his sanity and survival. To stay entertained, Watney plunders the crew’s personal items, which leads to his discovery of Lewis’ vast collection of 1970s disco.
Then there are the characters on Earth, and it’s a diverse and excellent group: Mars mission director Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), flight director Henderson (Sean Bean), PR director Montrose (Kristen Wiig), satellite expert Park (Mackenzie Davis), and disheveled astrophysicist Purnell (Donald Glover). Ultimately, they and Watney’s crew mates learn Watney’s alive, and work together to figure out how to bring him home.
One of Ridley Scott’s better films in years features one of Matt Damon’s best performances. Besides owning the physicality and body language one would imagine of a man stuck alone a distant planet, Damon is emotionally engaging on another level. The GoPro setup gives us a “found footage” aspect that in this case feels like it belongs, on occasion taking on the feel of a documentary. Further, this is a story that takes place on Mars and whether or not the science here is accurate, it’s completely believable.
While I read Weir’s novel and wish the screenplay included some of Watney’s better musings, and a particular harrowing event, screenwriter Drew Goddard delivers a well-rounded and accessible adaptation of The Martian that Scott was able to turn into one of the most realistic, intelligent and inspiring space stories Hollywood has ever delivered.
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.
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