the_martian_1Year: 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer(s): Drew Goddard, Andy Weir
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 141 mins

Synopsis: After astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, uses his wit and dwindling resources to stay alive at all costs. 

About four pages into Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian, I instantly saw, and grew excited about the cinematic prospects of such an incredible story. The book had it all, a magnetic protagonist who refused to let circumstance dictate his fate, impossibly high stakes and an unrelenting pace. I’m happy to report then, that together with Drew Goddard’s pitch perfect script, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the powerhouse survival story is also one of the purest forms of science fiction ever. Slavishly grounded, witty and with smart punch-ups to the source material, the film is a love letter to science and a blindingly hopeful example of what we can accomplish together as a united whole. It’s exactly that rare kind of optimistic science fiction we don’t get enough of, rooted in wonder and the spirit of survival, as well as being an all-out white knuckle thrill ride.

Roughly eighteen days into their mission, the Ares 3 crew is forced to abort due to an oncoming storm. Enroute to their ship, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is impaled by a communications satellite and perceived to be dead amidst the low-visibility storm. The crew’s commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), seeing no other options, evacuates the team, unwittingly leaving a still-alive Watney marooned. The heavily injured Watney wakes up to find his team missing, but rather than resign to his fate, hatches a plan to survive at all costs. Amidst an uninhabitable planet and very little supplies, the Botanist works to engineer his survival and find a way to contact home at any cost.

Rather than showcasing the grim psychological implications of being the sole survivor on a hostile planet, the film takes a refreshing and opposite approach, focusing on Watney’s ingenuity and perseverance in a hopeless situation where any lesser person would’ve shut down completely. It’s this trait that separates the film from any of its peers, with Watney’s humor a highlight, perfectly balanced against the way that most of his plans often literally blow up in his face. It’s the way that he continually picks himself up after each trial and keeps going that makes the film special, in turn creating a beautiful reminder of how we have to choose to live. The more dire Watney’s situation becomes, the more determined he is, and after he eventually finds a way to communicate with Earth, the story illustrates what we can accomplish through unity and unwavering selflessness (in this case a bond that transcends nations).

the_martian_2The other incredible aspect of the film, albeit a more understated one is the science. Weir’s novel read almost like an intimidating series of SAT word problems, with Watney describing the physics, chemistry and math behind every little act of survival. Most of it, aside from a few cheats, are totally plausible (theoretically and factually), and almost entirely intact throughout the film even if Ridley and Goddard smartly decide to mostly show and not tell. The benefits of this decision are twofold – as we see Watney grow potatoes from his own human waste, extract water from rocket fuel and find ways to get more milage from his dwindling resources, the pace stays breezy and full of tension, but there’s also a realism that makes the entire thing so believable, you’ll swear this is a fact-based story.

But what about the titular martian himself? Well, Matt Damon knocks this performance out of the park, or rather out of this world (I couldn’t resist). Armed with strong source material, he, and most of the cast honestly, are perfectly matched to their literary counterparts, with Damon bringing to life Watney’s defiant tenacity in the face of extinction with plenty of charm. As Watney evolves throughout his extended time on Mars, growing weary but never losing his persistence or hope, Damon immerses us fully into his character’s predicament, carrying almost the majority of the film, and earning its cheers and emotion. The rest of the cast, Jessica Chastain, the Ares crew and the Earthbound NASA teams headed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and others are all heavy hitters who equal Damon’s fierce performance despite having much smaller roles.

In a nutshell, The Martian is a perfect synergy of Weir’s strong source material, Drew Goddard’s humanist script and Ridley Scott’s masterful aestheticism – nothing is wasted. In weird but not unreasonably way, it resembles most the optimism, imagination and hope since something like the original Star Trek. It’s a call to action, that none of us are more important than the other, and that if we only believed that, the world would be a better place. Using hardcore science, a tight plot, endless ingenuity and incredible characters, it pictures a world where we can set aside our differences for just one person, while also shining a light on the innate bond that we each have within us. That may sound hokey or corny, but the film never comes across that way, instead being a cinematic beacon of hope that thrills as much as it inspires. The Martian is one of the year’s best by a large margin, and everything that science fiction can and should be.

SG