The Martian (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) Running Time: 136 minutes approx.
Legendary director Sir Ridley Scott made his name with seminal sci-fi works Alien and Blade Runner, films which were made during an era where special effects were still trying to catch up with the filmmakers’ imaginations.
Fast forward to today and The Martian, adapted from the novel by Andy Weir, seems a rather underwhelming project for Scott to exploit advanced special effects, but after the mixed reception to his last film, the Alien prequel Prometheus, perhaps it was a deliberate choice to put the story before the potential aesthetic marvels.
Not to be lazily dismissed as Castaway in space, the story revolves around astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is part of the Ares III crew on a geological exploration mission on Mars, under the command of Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). When a heavy storm hits the surface of the planet, the crew race back to their MAV craft but Watney is struck by debris and separated from the others.
Believing Watney dead Lewis makes the decision to return to their craft Hermes and begin the journey home. Miraculously Watney survived – his suit was temporarily damaged and gave out negative life signs reading – but now he is left alone in the crew’s temporary on surface base and has to survive while trying to find a way to make contact with either the Hermes or NASA back on Earth.
There are essentially two stories at work here – Watney’s lone survival on Mars and the planning and execution of a rescue plan on the staff at NASA. For us, the layman in the audience, there shouldn’t be much of a problem here – either turn the Hermes around and go pick Watney up or send another ship up there. How hard can it be?
Admittedly the parts with Watney’s survival on Mars are a fascinating look at a man living off his wits and skill as a botanist, showing great resourcefulness with a roll of masking tape and optimism in the face of a lonely four year wait with just a collection of 70’s disco songs to keep him company. He keeps a video diary for prosperity sake and cultivates his own potato farm using his own faecal evacuations as fertiliser to bolster his rations.
Back at NASA we have the conventional part of the film as the rescue mission is hampered by the uptight bureaucracy of NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), a by- the-book oaf who likes to throw his authority around but hides behind everybody else. Instead of showing concern for Watney, he rubbishes every idea put towards him by his team of experts Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean), Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong).
Sanders also decided not to tell the Ares II crew that Watney was still alive for fear it would distract them from their mission, a decision which was not supported by the others and ironically, would come back to bite him on the arse when they played a pivotal part in the actual rescue mission.
By his own admission author Andy Weir tried to make the science aspect of this story as accurate as possible and consulted many experts in the field (something Ridley Scott also did in preparation for the film) but what isn’t so clear is if the idea behind this tale was to suggest that a sustainable life could be cultivated on Mars or it Weir was mocking the suits with the power at NASA for not considering the value of an astronaut’s life.
One can assume that the constant arguing qt NASA and the throwing about of ideas to see which will stick to the inept Sanders was designed to create a sense of tension and sympathy for Watney’s plight; for this writer, I just wanted to someone to punch Sanders in the face and let common sense dictate the rescue mission! And if there was a point to Kirsten Wigg’s character other than being the token senior female it certainly wasn’t explained very well in the film.
Wigg’s character was not alone in being poorly fleshed out – elsewhere the science bods were either stiffs in suits or tubby extrovert geeks. For example, an astrodynamicist Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) – whose plan was originally nixed by Sanders – is a nerdy hyperactive guy who never finishes a sentence, has a quirky personality and has turned his office into a hovel, because science=weirdoes.
For fans of Matt Damon they can enjoy him working solo and mugging for the video cams and while he was commendable in his role it was nothing too outstanding. Damon did make Watney seem like a survivor who didn’t dwell on his problem but at the same time there was that Hollywood smugness about him which wasn’t so endearing. In fact, this is true of the film as a whole for me – even with an international cast it was pure Hollywood gloss.
Visually there are some great vistas representing the surface of Mars and the scenes in space look fantastic too. Effects wise there was nothing really boundary pushing like in Alien or Blade Runner, with the Hermes looking like it would be at home in 2001: A Space Odyssey almost fifty years ago.
For a film which spends an awful lot of its 136 minutes building to a dramatic finale, the drama was rather flimsy and not once did I feel any just cause to move any near the edge of my seat. Coming from someone like Scott whose catalogue features some memorably tense and edgy moments, there was just something lost in what ultimately feels like an over-polished and functional piece of popcorn fodder.
I’ve not read the novel so I can’t make comparisons but while The Martian has a lot going for it, there isn’t enough to it that makes it feel substantial or special in any way. No Oscars for you this time I’m afraid, Ridley.
English, Castellano and German Dolby Digital 5.1
English Descriptive Audio 5.1
English HOH, Castellano, German and Hindi Subtitles
Ares III: Farewell
The Right Stuff
Ares: Our Greatest Adventure
Leave Your Mark
Bring Him Home
Rating – ***
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