Film review: Ridley Scott makes triumphant return to space with The Martian as Matt Damon gets geeky
Story of an astronaut - played by Matt Damon - trapped on the red planet is a gripping, remarkably realistic survival drama, and a delightful surprise
Here’s a space travel epic that digs deep into technicalities and still manages to be tremendously thrilling and fun. Smartly adapted by Cabin in the Woods’ Drew Goddard, Ridley Scott’s take on Andy Weir’s hard-science novel from 2011 is a majestic return to form by the maker of such sci-fi landmarks as Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982).
When a crew of six Nasa astronauts (captained by Jessica Chastain) is forced by a sandstorm to abort their mission on Mars, the botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by flying debris, inadvertently presumed dead and left behind by his colleagues, with the remaining food and water in the habitat module his only chance of survival.
Although the resourceful Mark’s signs of life are soon picked up by the headquarters, his teammates are denied immediate knowledge of the discovery by Jeff Daniels’ pragmatic Nasa head, whose reluctance to jeopardise the entire mission puts his Mars expert (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and PR manager (Kristen Wiig) in a difficult spot.
The next planned mission is four years away. But as Mark carries out scientific research and logistically prepares for any rescue plan that may come his way, the film brings hope with its regular cuts back to Earth, where Nasa bigwigs gaze intently at the control room’s giant screens and scientists do their nerdy things to get Mark home.
The resulting film is a lot more entertaining than that premise may probably sound. While much of this remarkably realistic story revolves around a stranded astronaut who strives to avoid a certain, lonely death on the red planet, it’s ultimately as buoyant and optimistic as a one-man survival drama could reasonably aspire to be.
As Scott keeps the proceedings tight, and members of his starry cast make the most of their respective minor roles, Damon’s affectionately snarky performance provides the charismatic focus in a story otherwise clustered with scientific jargon. The Martian is a surprise delight.
The Martian opens on October 1