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New Release Review - THE MARTIAN

Presumed dead, an astronaut is left alone on Mars.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Sean Bean, Benedict Wong, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor




"There are few things more compelling than watching someone who is really good at their job, and seeing Watney apply scientific ingenuity to every problem posed by a planet whose dirt was never meant to be trod on by human feet is genuinely awe inspiring."





The sci-fi genre has provided Ridley Scott with both the highest (Alien, Blade Runner) and lowest (Prometheus) points of his career, so much was riding on how his adaptation of Andy Weir's 2011 science geek novel would turn out. The good news is it's the veteran director's best work since 1982's Blade Runner.
When a storm forces the crew of a Mars expeditionary project to evacuate the red planet, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind, his colleagues presuming he perished when his spacesuit was breached by debris. By a fluke, Watney survives, and uses his professional skills to keep things that way, forced to "science the shit out of" every new challenge the hostile Martian environment poses. Back on earth, the boffins of NASA figure out a way to get their man back to earth, but face their own set of obstacles.
While I maintain a profound respect for science, it's all gobbledegook to my untrained mind. Scientists may scoff at Watney's actions, but if you're an ignoramus like me, the film does a good job of convincing us that this guy really knows what he's doing. There are few things more compelling than watching someone who is really good at their job, and seeing Watney apply scientific ingenuity to every problem posed by a planet whose dirt was never meant to be trod on by human feet is genuinely awe inspiring. There are few stars with the right combination of charisma and acting chops to pull off this sort of role, and Damon, with his overgrown boy next door charm, is perfectly cast.
On paper, The Martian shouldn't work. As you'd expect from Ridley Scott, it's a beautiful looking film (though the 3D this reviewer was subjected to made the landscape of Mars appear to be constructed from papier mache), but it's deeply uncinematic in its approach to storytelling. Given the scientific nature of the plot, every plot turn is spelled out to us through dialogue. Thankfully it's dialogue that keeps you on the edge of your seat, delivered by a finely assembled cast (Benedict Wong as a burly boffin is the movie's secret weapon), and it's akin to watching an improbably gripping Open University lecture.
There's one aspect of The Martian that's simply too hard to swallow, and it doesn't occur on Mars, but back on earth, where thousands of people gather in the likes of Times Square and Trafalgar Square to watch the rescue mission on giant screens. In reality I suspect an event like this wouldn't even make the front page of most newspapers, unless the stranded astronaut happened to be a Kardashian. After all, we recently landed a robot on a comet and the reaction from a large swathe of the public was to ignore this incredible achievement in favour of lambasting the fashion choice of one of the boffins involved.
The Martian is an aspirational tale, one Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would be proud of, where disparate nations, races and genders come together on equal terms to reach out for something greater. Your enjoyment of the film will hinge on whether this is an idea you can embrace, but I fear modern audiences may be too embittered for such a (space) flight of fancy.



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