Space drama films are a recurring trend, thanks to movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, Space Cowboys and others. Possibly because there's always something memorable about stories from outer space, given that their scopes are limitless. And with the success of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity in 2013, for which he won an Oscar for Best Director, and Christopher Nolan's mind-boggling, theory-ridden Interstellar in 2014, the space drama subgenre has once again been re-hyped, and will keep the audiences tethered for the next few years to come. Continuing the phenomenon for this year, is Ridley Scott's new film The Martian.
The Martian tells the survival story of botanist astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, after he is presumed dead and abandoned by his Ares III crew, following a catastrophic sandstorm on the surface of Mars. The film starts out this way; the crew struggling to push back against the force of the storm, Watney being whipped away by flying debris, and Captain Lewis, played by Jessica Chastain, displaying one last look of regret at her supposedly fallen comrade before scrambling back to the ship for safety.
What unfolds next is a thrilling chain of events,and trust me, you'll keep your eyes glued for the whole two and a half hours. Viewers will enjoy seeing the protagonist, in his own words, "science the shit" out of every problem that arises. Watch Matt Damon transform into the space version of MacGyver as he applies scientifically accurate methods to grow potatoes out his own feces, burn hydrogen to produce water, or simply use duct tape to repair the cracks on his helmet.
Speaking of science, the film doesn't spare the audience of the scientific jibber-jabber that is heavily present in the source material, which is Andy Weir's novel of the same name. Instead, the script was expertly written in a way that reveres scientific technicalities without being too cerebral for the regular audience.
Back on Earth, NASA director Teddy Sanders, played by Jeff Daniels, deals with the weight of bearing the news of Ares III's mission failure and the unfortunate fate of Mark Watney to the public. But the somber mood in the office soon changes, as a sharp-eyed satellite controller discovers Watney's survival through satellite images of rearranged equipment left by the crew on Mars. But then the pressure only doubles, for the NASA team now has to figure out the fastest way to bring the Martian home.
70% of this film is made up of scenes on Mars, but it's the scenes back on Earth I find most interesting. The plot doesn't place NASA on a pedestal for pulling all of its expensive resources together to rescue an astronaut. Instead, it sheds the heroic exterior and reveals the ugly realities of massive corporations. Here, we witness the NASA team tackle issues of morality, the most appropriate example being their decision whether or not to tell the world Mark Watney actually survived. The complexities of humanity portrayed here only add to the depth of the film.
Most "lone survivor" films have one thing in common: they intensify the concepts of loneliness and desperation. We've seen it at play in movies like Castaway, where a heavily unshaven Tom Hanks befriends a football named Wilson, and in 127 Hours, where James Franco ultimately cuts off his arm to free himself from the boulder that trapped it.
Such is not the case with The Martian. For a survival narrative about someone who's stranded on another goddamn planet, The Martian is surprisingly light-hearted, not to mention funny as well. This, in my opinion, is what sets the film apart from the rest.
Ridley Scott has managed to maintain a tone of cheerfulness throughout the course of the film, focusing more on the protagonist's ingenuity and NASA's full-on support, than magnifying the perils that befall the man stranded on Mars. This is not to say of course, that the movie is not without its intensely emotional scenes. The film just highlights the smiles more than the tears.
Matt Damon truly shined as the lead in this film. Only he can pull off a character that remains to be charming even in the face of desperation, with classic one-liners such as "Fuck you, Mars!" and excessive complaints about Captain Lewis's bad taste in music.
Although Matt Damon's performance carried most of this film, the supporting cast deserve recognition as well. Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor provided the much needed depth to portray NASA team, even when a few of them just stood around looking worried. Meanwhile, the Ares III crew cast (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Kate Mara), delivered some of the most stirring dialogues of comradeship and teamwork in the film.
I'd like to specially mention Donald Glover, who made the most of his short screen time effectively playing the role of the eccentric, clumsy, socially inept astrodynamicist Rich Purnell. So that's why you left Greendale. It was his character who proposed a risky but fastest possible solution to rescue the Martian.Â
Before I wrap up, I'd like to give kudos to the production design and cinematography behind this film. Thanks to them, The Martian is not just a compelling story, but a visually pleasing flick as well. Who would've thought the red planet has picturesque, Instagram-worthy landscapes? Of course, it's just Jordan's Wadi Rum you see in the backdrop, but one couldn't help feeling a sense of wanderlust for the unknowns in outer space. Having said that, can I have a space rover, NASA? Thank you.Smart, engaging and very entertaining, The Martian is a certified crowd pleaser. I've never read the book, but after seeing the film, I can't wait to give it a try. This picture is definitely one I would recommend in a heartbeat.