The Martian Review: Robinson Crusoe of Mars
by Mathew Gruman @mattgeekshow
Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors. From Alien to Kingdom of Heaven, from Legend to Prometheus, Scott has accumulated himself an incredible body of work that shows why he is one of the greatest directors working in Hollywood today. And with The Martian, he continues to add to an already staggering resume of successful films! Adapted from the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney, who gets lost in a Martian sandstorm and is presumed dead by his crew as they rush to evacuate the planet. Finding himself marooned on a barren planet more than 140 million miles from home, he must find a way to contact Mission Control in Houston, Texas, as well as survive until the next mission can arrive to the red planet.
While the story is mainly about how Watney uses his scientific knowledge and problem solving skills to survive alone on Mars, he isn’t the sole focal point. The film also shows the monumental effort of NASA and agencies around the world that come together to figure out how to bring this stranded astronaut home. The back and forth narrative between the marooned astronaut and the frantic problem solving of scientists and engineers the world over really brings into focus the theme that Sir Ridley Scott wanted to showcase – No matter how bad it is, you’re not as alone as you think!
Drew Goddard (Lost, Marvel’s Daredevil) adapted the screenplay from the novel and seems to have done a wonderful job here! I’m sure that adapting any book to screenplay form is never easy, as there are undoubtedly moments, characters and even exposition that a writer could bog down a script with in a effort to be as faithful to the source material as possible. While I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity the read the novel before the film released, I didn’t get the sense that Drew had trouble finding his throughline for the script. It seems that Ridley chose the better of the Lost writers this time around! Sorry, Lindelof (eh..not really).
The acting is great here, as well. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, and he brings back the charm and charisma that I really haven’t seen from him since Good Will Hunting and Dogma. Damon’s Watney stays away from the woe is me attitude one would expect from an interplanetary cast away, and instead wise-cracks his way through video journals and dances to music he hates ,which is a running gag in the film. The rest of the cast does good work here as well, with Jessica Chastain as the guilt stricken Commander Lewis, Sean Bean as the mission director with close ties to the Aries III crew, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the resourceful problem solver and Jeff Daniels as the intractable head honcho of NASA. They all acquit themselves well, but this is Damon’s show, through and through.
Filming on location in Wadi Rum, Jordan as a stand in for Mars, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski frames beautiful wide shots of the Martian wasteland that Watney now calls home – driving home the feeling of being isolated on this barren planet. And some of his most beautiful shots are at night, where the sky is a blanket of stars! It’s unfortunate that this isn’t available in IMAX, as this would be incredible to see in such a format. On top of that, you have Harry Gregon-Williams’ score, which is beautifully sweeping at times, and others soothingly ambient. It’s the perfect score for an uplifting space adventure!
Overall, this is an incredible film!This is Ridley Scott’s return to form, and I couldn’t be happier. Though not his masterpiece (I think that Blade Runner, Kingdom of Heaven, and American Gangster hold that spot), this is his best overall film in the last several years. At 77 years old, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and if he keeps this up, I don’t want him to!
All images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox