Scott Hastie

Matt Damon is The Martian

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Scott Hastie reviews the new Ridley Scott sci-fi Epic, The Martian.

Ridley Scott’s love letter to science and NASA is a success through the right balance of intensity and optimism.

Off the back of NASA’s amazing announcement that there is in fact running water on the Mars, we have a brand new film about an astronaut stuck on the big red dot in space. We can joke that this is perhaps the biggest PR stunt in the history of the solar system. The Martian is North East legend Ridley Scott’s first science fiction flick since Prometheus in 2012 and arguably a return to form from the poor showings of The Counselor (2013) and Exodus: Gods And Kings (2014).

The Martian, based on the Andy Weir novel of the same name, tells the story of abandoned NASA astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) as he is stranded on Mars after a dangerous storm. Whilst NASA pronounce him dead we find out that Watney did in fact survive his injury and the film largely focuses on his challenge to survive life on Mars until NASA can arrive to save him from the red deserts.
The narrative mostly follows Damon on Mars but also shows us Earth who are trying to get to Mark Watney and also to a lesser extent Damon’s crew who spend the film in Space on their way back to Earth until they hear Mark did not die in their escape from Mars. The extensive use of NASA on the ground gives us a lighter paced film which does focus more on the science behind what is at play here rather than the grave situation Watney is in.

Damon leads the film on the Mars scenes and obviously spends all of scenes alone. Unlike the desperation of Sandra Bullock’s lead in Gravity, Damon’s Watney brings us back to ground with an immense amount of optimism. Even when things go wrong and the vast danger of Space feels real, Damon settles us and takes us through how he’s going to make it.
There is a huge ensemble behind Damon with Jessica Chastain leading Damon’s Ares III crew which also includes Kate Mara and a humourous turn from Michael Pena. On Earth there is a power struggle between the immaculate Jeff Daniels as head of NASA, Sean Bean as the Ares III mission director and the scene stealing Chitewel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, the other mission director and perhaps the most sympathetic character of the three heads. They are joined by Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong and Mackenzie Davis amongst others. All in all it certainly boasts a mouth-watering amount of A-List talent and they all play their parts well under Ridley Scott’s direction.

The visuals of the film aren’t exactly on par with the game-changing Interstellar but the never ending mountains and hilly terrain of Mars never feels fake. What is particularly impressive is the sound design, which makes some nights terrifying as Mark Watney has to listen to the death-trap outside of his small base. The crowning achievement of what we see in The Martian actually appears on Earth mostly though as we get a glimpse of what NASA is really like. Mission Control looks out-standing and plays the host of many of the key scenes in the film. NASA’s development company the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is also fantastic to watch as man really pushes the limits of what we can do. If there’s one thing which can put a man on Mars and get him off safely, it’s the brilliant minds at NASA.

Despite feeling overly long at 141 minutes, The Martian is a massive celebration of science and exploration which is a grand return to form for Ridley Scott. If there’s any justice, Damon’s ability to own most of the film when he is by himself will earn him a nod at award ceremonies to come too.

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