Review: The Martian (2015)


Almost Ridders, almost. This is undoubtedly the best thing Ridley Scott has produced in over a decade. For me though, THE MARTIAN doesn’t quite justify the plaudits it has received, but yeah it’s good. That’s pretty much it. You want a full review? Fiiine…

In the near future a manned research mission to Mars ends in disaster when an astronaut is lost in a freak storm and presumed dead. As his team leave for home, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) must try and make contact with Earth and survive alone on the Red Planet for however long it takes for help to arrive.  

Nobody makes technology look quite as good as Ridley Scott. Either it’s real mind-blowing space tech in action or it’s tactile and convincing enough for you to believe it’s real. Sooner or later he’s going to run out of ways to make space suits look like sexy fashion accessories, but these aren’t quite as egregious as the disco numbers we saw in PROMETHEUS. The film looks good in general as Scott’s films tend to, with the imposing landscapes of Jordan standing in for Mars and the action polished and convincingly realised throughout.

Matt Damon gets to play an egotistic tool with great elan, but it’s fortunate he’s such a charmer as well since we spend so much of the film’s runtime with Mark Watney talking straight at us either deploying gallows humour at his latest setback or getting increasingly livid at the awful music selection he’s been left with as his only company. I think the non-Watney scenes were intended to be an ensemble affair, but unless you’re Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain or Chiwetel Ejiofor then you’re not given a whole lot to do. You couldn’t accuse the cast or characters of being non-diverse, though you do have Ejiofor playing a man with an Indian surname that is clunkily explained away and Mackenzie Davis as a character with a Korean surname that weirdly isn’t discussed at all.

Drew Goddard’s screenplay is annoyingly a little inconsistent. Nothing’s badly written, but one moment we’re told exactly how Watney has solved an impossible problem in minute detail (particularly of note is how he waters his martian potato crop) and the next we skip past anything that was too difficult or boring to explain (where is NASA getting all its money from?). I think you either do one or the other – either every detail matters for the sake of immersion in your film’s world or none of it does for the sake of the fluid telling of your story. In its final form the film is a good-looking space adventure movie with tech-y asides but little else. There’s jeopardy sure, but it’s well signposted and romanticised threat to a large degree, and are we ever really in doubt that it’ll all be alright in the end?

The Martian was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) this year. I’m not going to deny the film has moments of levity, but classing it as a a comedy film is quite frankly ridiculous. Picking three genre pictures off the top of my head – JURASSIC PARK; JAWS; TOTAL RECALL – all have a roughly equal number of gags as The Martian, so are they all comedies? Basically, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association wanted to show an almost-back on form Ridley Scott some love, but felt that THE REVENANT was a worthier choice, so they bumped him down to the lighter runner-up prize.

If The Marian is an indication of things to come from Ridley Scott, especially where his sci-fi projects are concerned, then colour me optimistic. Prometheus got bogged down in mythology and delaying tactics to bring audiences back next time for the real revelations. If the next Prometheus/ALIEN movie remembers why we watch movies like this – memorable characters trying to survive whatever fresh hell the universe throws at them – as well as presenting everything with Scott’s superior level of craftsmanship, then we could be in for a much more satisfying affair. The Martian is nothing if not conventional, but it’s a solid and entertaining version of a story we know and love. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

Writer and film fanatic fond of black comedies, sci-fi, animation and films about dysfunctional families.
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