THE MARTIAN || 2015, USA/UK || Science Fiction || Directed by – Ridley Scott / Written by – Drew Goddard (based on the book The Martian by Andy Weir) / Produced by – Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Aditya Sood, Michael Schaefer, Mark Huffam / Starring – Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor / Music by – Harry Gregson-Williams / Dariusz Wolski / Running time: 141 mins.
“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this!,” says Matt Damon in the role of an astronaut left behind, and presumed dead, on Mars by his crew after a storm. These words are also very representative of what The Martian, Ridley Scott’s return to the place where no one can hear you scream, is all about.
While Damon is as muscular as ever, he uses brains rather than brawns when placed against his antagonist – the extreme conditions posed by life, alone, on the red planet. Extreme, yes. Unfamiliar, also. But nevertheless, studied and very real. The fact that the story is not set in a galaxy far, far away, places certain responsibility on the film to have some type of scientific accuracy. Not only was this aspect dealt with to a satisfactory degree, but also science is the reason why the film is so entertaining, being the nerdy one liners of a humorous screenplay and the exciting, though expected, special effects.
Here, facts are balanced with fiction in an extraordinarily rewarding way. The choice of a botanist as the central figure in a science fiction feature, arguably a first, brings on a fascinating type of sensibilities and interests to the Robinson Crusoe narrative. And so, instead of fighting off mysterious alien creatures, we see him growing a potato field. Not only is the process just as suspenseful, if not even more due to its originality, but the whole concept’s environmental connotations is all the more meaningful.
Eventually, NASA realizes there still is life on Mars, although from an organizational point, the news is bittersweet, and sometimes their attitudes make it seem like they might have wished him dead. This adds a further coating of tension to the film, as well as a vivid contrast in style and form; the office settings are appropriately awkward mismatch to the desert-like setting of Mars.
Despite the noteworthy prominence of comic relief in Drew Goddard’s script, The Martian is far from being a fickle and shallow Lost in Space-alike. In its most emotive moments, even Damon steps up to the plate, when his cocky knowledge of science seems to fail, or when he realizes how alone he really is. In a particular scene, for instance, while looking through his fellow crew members’ personal belongings, he gets particularly emotional. This is a small but meaningful moment, which not only shows the versatility of the often underrated Matt Damon, but also that despite its title, the film is fundamentally full of humanity.