Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor. 141 mins.
The director of Alien and Blade Runner (yes, and Prometheus) returning to sci-fi is a big deal, even if it basically to remake Robinson Crusoe On Mars. During a hasty, forced evacuation, Damon is left behind, believed dead, on the red planet. He then has to try and survive until someone notices and can come back for him. It's like the Camerons leaving their daughter in the pub and then finding themselves stuck in a one way system that means they cant get back to her for several years by which time she will have run out of crisps to survive on and will have to try to make her own bar snacks.
He's approaching 80 but Scott turns out films at a rate that even Woody Allen cant match. They are big films too and though they are all magnificently put together you often sense that speed supersedes reflection in his film making, a desire to get the job done and done well, rather than really stick your neck out for something special. The Martian though is a meticulous production. The scenes on Mars and in space look incredibly realistic, while the 3D is some of the most effective I've seen. (This and The Walk coming out together means this week makes the most persuasive case for 3D since the one Avatar was released in.)
In four decades Scott has had a go at most genres, but has largely shunned comedy. His films are generally pretty po-faced but The Martian is filled with chuckles and levity. I think this is because the film has a drama deficit. Explaining how he will solve his latest problem, Damon says he will “science the sh** out of it,” which is the script's solution to everything. It jargons its way out of every predicament. The film skips between Damon on Mars growing his potatoes; the crew flying home and people in NASA sitting in meetings or staring at launch monitors, but wherever they are the narrative is always the same: a problem presents itself, they have a quick think about it, someone babbles a solution to it, the people in the audience pretend to themselves that they have understood it and off we go.
The Martian is an impressive production, a meeting of cutting edge visual effects and more traditional storytelling traditions. Probably my brain has been frazzled by too many whiz bang blockbusters but I have to confess I was a bit, not bored, but definitely impatient with it. The plot is dull enough you'd think it was based on a true story.
It also so damn lighthearted and flippant it's difficult to care. Damon's astronaut is so eager beaver upbeat and throws himself into each new challenge with the enthusiasm of a Blue Peter presenter fixing up his spaceship with stickyback plastic. You assume this must be a conscious survival technique, but he really doesn't seem to have any dark side at all. If even once we'd seen him succumb to depression, the horrible sense of isolation and betrayal at being abandoned in a hostile environment the film would've had much more of a dramatic charge. He's so plucky, it's like they left Doris Day on the moon. The poster has Matt Damon's face and the words Bring Him Home – I'd have left him there, just to wipe the smile off his face.
A Good Year review
American Gangster Review
Body of lies review