The Martian

 

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No sooner had Mars made international headlines than Ridley Scott’s latest, most timely, film opened across the planet – this planet, obviously. Nobody makes technology and the future more convincing than Sir Ridley – remember the everyday detritus on the spaceship in Alien? – and here he doesn’t spare the details.

 

In the face of a merciless storm, a NASA mission on the Red Planet is forced to make a quick getaway, leaving behind Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a botanist and mechanical engineer. Having been floored by flying debris, Watney is presumed dead, but he comes round later, badly wounded, but entirely compos mentis. And he is the first human being since Adam to have an entire planet to himself…

 

Martian, The

 

Ridley Scott and his screenwriter Drew Goddard (World War Z) are wise not to underestimate the intelligence of their audience. While some smart alecks in the media criticised the film for its ignorance of the Martian environment – such as the adoption of greater gravity and thicker air – NASA has come to its defence. After all, the space administration did assist in the making of the film. And, if you believe the Daily Mail, Ridley Scott knew that there was water on Mars long before we did. There is a lot of science in The Martian and Scott and Goddard are at pains to make it real. Even if we don’t understand it, we have the central premise of Matt Damon trying to survive on his own – and Watney’s can-do spirit and resourcefulness makes for great drama.

 

In fact, the film is littered with outstanding emotional bullet points as the world joins hands to help Watney survive. Tom Hanks entertained us on his own in Cast Away and Robert Redford single-handedly held our attention throughout All is Lost, but neither had to contend with the extremes that Damon has to confront. And while Damon re-invents the wheel to stay alive (“In your face, Neil Armstrong!”), Scott has corralled a superlative supporting cast to add dramatic ballast: Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis and Jeff Daniels as the token bureaucratic villain (but a believable one). What with Gravity and InterStellar, it’s proving to be a golden space age for the cinema – and The Martian packs enough humour, intelligence and excitement to join the fleet.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis.

 

Dir Ridley Scott, Pro Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Aditya Sood, Michael Schaefer and Mark Huffam, Screenplay Drew Goddard, Ph Dariusz Wolski, Pro Des Arthur Max, Ed Pietro Scalia, Music Harry Gregson-Williams, Costumes Janty Yates.

 

Scott Free Productions/Kinberg Genre/TSG Entertainment-20th Century Fox.

141 mins. USA/UK. 2015. Rel: 30 September 2015. Cert. 12A.