The Martian posterBased on Andy Weir’s self-published – to – riches novel of the same title, The Martian is a welcome return to form for director Ridley Scott after a string of disappointing projects. Telling the story of the attempted rescue of an astronaut marooned on Mars, the film boasts an excellent cast including the likes of Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and a crisp vision of Mars from cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. The main character is a botanist, and the film mirrors the book’s science-first depiction of his struggle to survive. Some may find the approach a bit clinical.

In a clearly fictional universe in which NASA has the funding for manned missions to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is mistakenly left for dead during an emergency evacuation of the planet’s surface. Watney recovers from his injury, but he faces the bleak situation of having to survive until the next mission returns to the planet years later, in a shelter built for a much shorter duration and with limited supplies. Meanwhile, NASA discovers Watney’s survival and wrestles with the difficult decision of whether to tell mission commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain) and crew in the returning spacecraft. With a rescue needing to be mounted in impossibly short order, the agency is forced to get creative and draw on every available resource.

Mars sceneLike NASA, 20th Century Fox pulls out all the stops, with an A-list director, cast, and crew, but the end result is more solid than exceptional. Marooning is a very familiar cinema theme, and director Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard fail to provide much diversion from a well-trod path. Watney faces overwhelming adversity, but the character as written is relentlessly optimistic, to the point where one may wonder whether anyone could be so unflappable. Science is the true hero here, and, while it is generally quite accurate, a little more introspection could have made the film a bit less squeaky sterile. Damon does what he can, but the rest of the cast feels underused, particularly Watney’s crew mates.

All this being said, The Martian is a crowdpleaser, and one could definitely do worse in the space adventure department. Goddard keeps things light with some well-timed humor, and Scott is firmly in control in the director’s chair. Between this and the recent Interstellar, Hollywood seems to be exploring a purer form of science fiction, with science itself leading the way. It’s a nice change of pace.

 

UGeek Rating: 8/10