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Directed by Ridley Scott, Written by Drew Goddard, Out Now
Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a welcome return to form after a run that has been average at best. Scott has done away with the plodding pace and self-important tone of his most recent Exodus: Gods and Kings and instead has embraced a much more popcorn friendly and warm tone. It tells the story of a mission to Mars that goes wrong; after a rushed evacuation, one astronaut, Mark Watney, is left stranded presumed dead and must battle against one of the universe’s most hostile environments until NASA can save him. Much like Apollo 13, cutting between NASA and the astronauts plays to the movie’s favour.
Goddard’s screenplay is a great adaptation of Andy Weir’s source novel, thinning moments where necessary but remaining true to Weir’s spirit. The dialogue is sparky, witty and very funny. A recurring gag about disco music is funny at the best of times and just bizarre at others: if you’d have told me beforehand that I’d have had Abba’s Waterloo and Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff blasted at me through the Dolby Atmos system, I would have laughed you off. All I can say is that I think it’s the best those songs will probably ever sound. The Martian‘s knowing and self-depreciating humour comes to a brilliant head when Sean Bean has a discussion with other scientists about the council of Elrond.
Matt Damon seems very comfortable in the title role of Mark Watney. Most of Damon’s lines are delivered directly to the lens, through the form of video logs; Damon is one of the only actors that could pull off the honest comedy the role requires. Jeff Daniels is on stunning form as NASA chief, Teddy Sanders, who is stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare. The performances are, in general, very strong but some actors are perhaps a little wasted: Kirsten Wiig suffers the most as NASA’s PR Guru, Annie. Scott has mentioned in interviews that most of her scenes ended on the cutting room floor because she would improvise a devastatingly funny line that ground the scene to a halt. Hopefully, she’ll get the chance to shine in the DVD extras. Kate Mara has an unnecessary love story tacked on in the final reel of the film. The Martian should be celebrated though, for casting Jessica Chastain as the captain of the Ares Crew. She gives a muscular and measured performance and is one of the movie’s highlights.
It is great to see Scott roll up his sleeves and tell a streamlined and propulsive story. He seems to have been reinvigorated by the project and I am now eagerly anticipating his second Prometheus film Alien: Paradise Lost. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is great and underpins the stark landscapes captured by Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography. The Martian’s scenes in space have a great weightless and soundless feel; Scott employed Framestore to do this because of their previous form capturing that environment so vividly with Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.
The Martian is a brilliant ride. A late edition to a somewhat lacklustre summer season for popcorn movies, it is well worth the watch for its rollercoaster thrills.