********* 8 out of 10 *********
Director: Ridley Scott
Actors: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Hollywood has taken us into space quite often in the last few years. In Gravity, we sat with bated breath as medical engineer Ryan Stone fought against all odds to charter a way home from a debris-filled space. In Interstellar, NASA pilot and engineer Cooper mesmerized us with his epic journey through a wormhole to save mankind. Now we have The Martian, where a NASA botanist gets abandoned on the planet Mars and has to do whatever he can to survive. To all these three movies, I say wow! Forget Star Trek and Star Wars for a moment. We have just been given three original ideas, non-franchise films, that make space adventures seem romantic again. Yeah, two of them are about surviving in space, but with the tension and drama also comes a chapter on human courage and endurance. The Martian packs those emotions to the full and delivers a smartly pieced survival guide that is awe-inspiring and mind-blowing.
The Martian does not waste time in getting to the heart of the story. It begins with a crew of NASA astronauts led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) surveying the planet Mars. Things start to go south when an intense storm hits the crew, in which astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is lost. With the storm threatening to tilt the spacecraft, Lewis has no option but to leave the planet with her crew, presuming Watney is dead. But Watney survives and now finds himself alone on a human-unfriendly planet. His goal: how to live on Mars for four years before the next manned mission lands on the planet? This can’t be easy, mate!
I have not read the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, but going by the movie’s premise, I figure that Weir’s book is absolutely terrific. Weir’s story which has been adapted into a screenplay by Drew Goddard is rich in its imagination and stands out for its attempts to be as authentic as possible. The Martian is something akin to a show on Discovery channel where an expert tells you all clever ways to survive the harsh conditions of Mars, and decades later we might really see such a show. The intelligence with which the story has been written gives the audience credit that they would not be screaming for a simplified version of the science, which is something so refreshing in today’s cinema where smart original tales are becoming sparse. Mixed with the science is also a story of human spirit that takes The Martian beyond a Discovery channel show. An elaborate rescue attempt is underway the moment NASA realises that Whatney is alive, but as you would have guessed, this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Ideas are drawn, attempts are made, failures are analysed, and then Plan B is sought. It’s like the whole drama in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 where NASA is working frantically on Earth to somehow engineer a miraculous escape for its astronauts rounding the moon, only in The Martian, the scale is larger and the timelines are longer.
The genius of director Ridley Scott makes the story of The Martian shine. It’s one of his finest works till date, showing once again that he can get the best out of movies that take place far away from our planet (Alien and Prometheus). Scott breaks the pace of the movie into two segments – the more frantic and intense one where NASA is figuring out a way to rescue Whatney in time, and the calmer and even humorous one with Whatney himself who is trying to ‘science the shit out of’ whatever he has so as to continue living. These two segments make for a striking partnership, putting us in the shoes of the people at home as well as the lonely astronaut on Mars. We understand the dire situation by being in both places, we feel the tension, we understand the desperation, but we also come to love Whatney for his strength and desire to live as well as his ingenuity. Scott uses 3D technology brilliantly once again, following up on Prometheus and Exodus: Gods and Kings, giving us a striking view of the Red Planet which is quite unforgettable. Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, who is quite a regular with Ridley Scott nowadays, is beautiful, especially the shots in space and the red tinge of Mars. Editing on The Martian by Pietro Scalia, another Scott regular, is absolutely terrific, and certainly Scott himself would have overseen a lot of this work.
Oh, what a joy to see Matt Damon as the heart and soul of a wonderful movie once again! He makes Mark Watney a character worth saving, a person worth risking your life for. Damon is enjoyable to watch on screen, completely in command of his performance, standing out more so in The Martian as he is alone in maximum of his scenes. Then there is this moment when he sort of breaks down, and it’s going to completely move you, such is the power of his performance. Jessica Chastain shows limited emotions as the commander of the crew, is full of confidence, and delivers her limited but critical role with aplomb. Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Director of the Mars Mission at NASA drives home the tension and anxiety that people on Earth are facing on the fate of astronaut Watney. Jeff Daniels carries the burden of being the President of NASA who has to make the tough calls. And then are a host of other good actors who make every scene a delight to watch, including Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Michael Peña and Donald Glover among others.
The Martian is not just a regular survival story; it’s smart, creative, ambitious and grander than other tales of this genre. It is serious in its approach while creating this futuristic sci-fi movie which makes it such a riveting piece of cinema. It completes a trilogy of sorts – along with Gravity and Interstellar – of space adventures that are trying to mix realism along with science-fiction in an intelligent manner. Movies like these go beyond entertainment; they create an interest amongst the young ones in the wide depths of space itself. And who knows, some day, they might even inspire a Ryan Stone or a Mark Watney, eh!