During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
Ridley Scott’s last venture into sci-fi was 2012’s spectacular-looking but genuinely lifeless “Prometheus.” While the movie does have its followers, many who went to see it were led to believe it would explain the origins of the Xenomorph from the classic 1979 movie “Alien,” which was set in the same universe and which Scott also directed. Sadly, that was not the case and only recently did Scott state that it would not be until the third or fourth “Prometheus” movie before finally infusing both stories together. In the meantime, Scott has directed “The Martian,” a magnificent character study in human solitariness that blends both science fiction and science fact flawlessly. Matt Damon has never been better and the one rule all filmmakers must adhere to when making a movie with one central character who is confined to one area or expanse, is to keep it interesting. And Scott does exactly that. While the film does cut back and forth between the events on Mars and Earth, the scenes in which Damon is companionless, which is most of the movie, are so authentic and effective they are a testimony to both star and director and their combined ingeniousness.
As the movie begins, a group of astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars, are consumed by a deadly storm which forces them to quickly evacuate the planet and blast off for their mother ship orbiting the planet. In the process, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by flying debris and presumed dead. The rest of the crew barely manage to escape with their lives and make their way back to earth, despondent over having lost one of their own. But that obviously wouldn’t make for a very interesting story so we discover that Mark has indeed survived the storm. With limited supplies and three full years before the next manned mission is scheduled to arrive, Watney must learn how to survive and adapt to his new surroundings. Being a botanist, he devises a plan that will allow him to grow his own food and barring any further unforeseen circumstances, all he has to do is sit tight and wait but we all know that is not going to happen.
Meanwhile, back on earth, NASA announces the death of Mark to the world as an unfortunate accident but just as everyone is trying to get on with their lives, they quickly discover that he is alive. Now they must formulate a plan to get supplies to him as quickly as possible that will last for the next three years or risk sending his own crew back to rescue him which could jeopardize all of their lives. While the movie spans almost two and a half hours, you never feel it. Scott has made a name for himself as a filmmaker who likes to produce long movies and while some of them have suffered because of this, “The Martian” actually succeeds by virtue of this factor. Watching Mark utilize everything at his fingertips, complete with his can-do attitude, even when faced with insurmountable obstacles, gives us hope for him. When faced with an impossible task, he states “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” and we just know we’re in for an exciting ride. The scene is the verbal equivalent of the hero getting ready for battle, followed by a quick succession of shots of him tightening his ammo belt and loading his weapons.
The film’s supporting cast, including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña and Kristen Wiig, give the story much-needed credibility and gravity back on earth. Watney’s crew must make the decision to either go back for him or go home and it’s undeniably apparent that their captain, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), will not let him die a second time. A movie of this variety could have easily evolved into unnecessary melodrama but thanks to the masterful restraint of both star and director, “The Martian” is an instant sci-fi classic.
In theaters October 2nd
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