Movie Review | The Martian (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Freda Cooper 04.10.2015

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The Martian (UK Rating: 12A)

Ridley Scott belongs to a dying breed; one of the few directors left actively flying the flag for the epic - and not always the biblical - variety. Sure, he's made some of those, most recently Exodus: Gods and Kings, but his latest, The Martian, takes him back to one of his favourite territories - outer space. After the likes of Alien and Prometheus, he's concentrating on the Red Planet in a survival story, currently in cinemas around the UK.
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While exploring Mars, a crew of NASA astronauts is caught in a ferocious storm, one that kills a member of the team. The Commander (Jessica Chastain) decides that the safest course of action is to leave the planet, but what she doesn't realise is that astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) didn't die. Over the following weeks and months, he concentrates on surviving and eventually re-establishes contact with NASA back on Earth, and then the onus is on them to decide if - and how - they can get him home.

The recent media fuss about the discovery of water on Mars gave the film something of a boost - not that it really needed one - and also highlighted its scientific side. Solitary astronaut, Watney, is shown mixing hydrogen and oxygen to make water so he can grow his own food, with the help of the only natural fertilizer available on the sterile planet (think about it!). Much of the science is more complicated, but one of the joys of the film is that Director Scott has resisted the temptation to, in Watney's own words, "science the sh*t out of it." The gadgets, jargon, and computers are balanced by a helmet visor repaired with duct tape, messages to NASA written on storage crate lids, and that fertilizer... It shows that something can work without being electronic or complicated, and demonstrates that the converse is true, as well - that it only takes the simplest error or fault to cause a catastrophe.


 
Fundamentally, it's a good old fashioned adventure story, and the comparisons with Robinson Crusoe or, indeed, Saving Private Ryan, don't do it any harm. Faced with a hostile environment on the screen, they provide some familiarity and a comfort zone, so when things go wrong, the shocks and surprises have even more impact.

The focus is, inevitably, on Watney, but even more so than usual. Throughout the film, he records a daily video diary, talking straight into the camera and looking straight at the audience, so the involvement in his character becomes even more personal, and it's hard not to warm to somebody who's a bit of a showman and doesn't think twice about putting Neil Armstrong in his place, or showing off his home grown tomatoes. Despite his antics in front of the camera, he's only too aware of his predicament and his honesty about being the first person to walk anywhere on Mars is endearing. It's a role that makes great use of Damon's everyman quality.

Scott has brought together a genuinely A-list cast, although there are times when the NASA team, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor among them, lack real definition, yet Jessica Chastain brings real life to her Commander - a highly intelligent, rational thinker but one who isn't afraid of taking risks and leads from the front.

Image for Movie Review | The Martian (Lights, Camera, Action!)

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
The Martian is epic in its setting - the hostile, red landscape is something to behold - but it's a hugely personal story at the same time, one about survival and resilience, portrayed expertly by Matt Damon. Ridley Scott's latest is a crowd pleaser, but at the same time it is an intelligent one with a surprising amount of humour and an unerring ability to move, especially in the final reel.

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