Sometimes in science-fiction, people look for a deeper meaning than is actually required. Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR was a movie that tried a little too hard to be a spiritual awakening about our place amongst the universe, but never quite achieved the iconic status that Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (1968) aspired to.
After the disappointing PROMETHEUS, which lacked face-huggers in abundance to appease those fans (including myself) expecting a solid ALIEN prequel, Ridley Scott redeems himself with THE MARTIAN (Cert 12A, 141 minutes) , one of the most complete science-fiction experiences I have had in recent years. The lack of a spiritual subtext and a simple set-up are what lend strength and foundation to a movie that follows a more linear purpose and the film succeeds on many levels, not just in terms of the stunning visual representation of Mars (which was shot apparently in the Middle East).
The plot is simple – a team of explorers on Mars are recalled to Earth as a brutal storm hits their location, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by a random piece of debris and is declared dead by the crew, who blast off home. Only thing is – he has survived and has to figure out how to survive without any help whatsoever.
Fans of the genre will detect elements of APOLLO 13, AVATAR, GRAVITY and SILENT RUNNING throughout, but what elevates THE MARTIAN above those films at times is the abundance of humour throughout. For far too long, most of the recent sci-fi offerings have lacked a laugh factor to compliment the realities of space flight (perhaps there is more on the way when THE FORCE AWAKENS opens in two months time). Furthermore, it is nice to see a balance of rooted reality as events unfold. Scott wisely keeps the focus on the human element of the film and the exchanges between Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor as they plan the return of their stranded colleague evoke much mirth amongst the characters and the audience. The phenomenally successful AVATAR was technically competent and I don’t begrudge Cameron’s vision, but his characters didn’t have the same depth of feeling as those on show in THE MARTIAN and were a little too reminiscent of those in ALIENS and THE ABYSS (which were far superior concepts)
First and foremost, this is Matt Damon’s film. His solid portrayal of Watney, as he begins to figure out how to get through one crisis to the next, is the heart of the film and I have not rooted for a lead protagonist in recent years (in this type of film) as much as I have done as Damon’s Mark Watney.
In terms of visual effects, GRAVITY did raise the bar with it’s stunning opening sequence (created in the Soho FX powerhouses in London), but THE MARTIAN expands on those with an excellent combination of Mars-bound landscapes and stellar perspectives, all the more real thanks to the excellent 3D.
Supporting cast is also strong with excellent performances as well from Jessica Chastain as the team leader and Kate Mara, doing much to redeem her stock after the FANTASTIC FOUR fiasco this summer. I think she can be forgiven for that. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t (Memo to the new stars of STAR WARS – you will get other opportunities as well down the line – you are first and foremost actors)
As for Ridley Scott, recent screenings of BLADE RUNNER – THE FINAL CUT have allowed us to appreciate what a fine legend of film direction he is and his contribution to rooted sci-fi reality is assured with THE MARTIAN.
More sci-fi please, if you will Mr. Scott…..