It’s virtually impossible to watch The Martian and not think about where it sits in the recent revival of intelligent science fiction, in popular cinema. What began with Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, two years ago – a film I actually want to revisit, after initially being disappointed – continued last year, with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar – my number one film of 2014.
Now, the torch has been passed on to Ridley Scott, who is given a chance to return to his filmic home, space, without the pressure of throwing in a Xenomorph, to keep people happy. The result is tremendous; a well oiled machine that works on every single level, that proves a return to form for Scott.
He’s aided largely by Andy Weir, the author of the book from which this is adapted. Even though I’ve not read the source material, I have it on great authority that it’s an excellent read, which, having seen the film, is easy to believe. Either way, it’s The Martian’s central concept that is one of its biggest assets.
Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaught who is left to survive on the Red Planet, when his team presume him dead. Determined to live, Watney has to find a way to create food and water on the barren planet, whilst NASA decide how best to mount a rescue and bring him home.
It’s basically a combination of Gravity and Interstellar, with Ridley Scott stealing only the best bits of each. It has the brains of Interstellar, and the pitch perfect script from Drew Goddard succeeds in making maths and science, cool; something teachers all over the world struggle to do, day in, day out.
Some of the most exciting moments in The Martian, come from the problem solving that it’s characters have to constantly contend with. Rather than talking down to its audience though, Goddard’s script expects you to keep up instead – challenging us in the same way Nolan’s picture did.
It has the same level of spectacle about it too. When watching the film, you believe you’re on Mars with large, dusty vistas of orange that look like the old west, in space, filling the screen. The imagery and cinematography is altogether sleek and jaw-dropping; a stark reminder of the brilliant worlds which Scott can bring to life.
Whilst it has the brains and looks of Interstellar, it has all the entertainment of Gravity. After all, The Martian may be clever, but there’s no denying that it’s a blockbuster as well.
It has a great A-list cast, with Matt Damon in the lead role – he’s absolutely fantastic as Watney, and manages to carry the film during some of its more wordy segments – and performers such as Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor in supporting parts. They bring Goddard’s writing to life with humour and charm.
It has laughs and it has thrills too, with a heart pounding finale – one of the best final sequences I’ve seen this year – that looks like it could have been a deleted scene from Gravity, in the best way possible.
It was towards the film’s ending that I suddenly realised just how great a cinematic experience I was having. The audience around me, consisting of the old and the young, were silent, tentative, and had been all the way through the film. For me, this is a sure sign of The Martian’s success; a rare cinematic experience which you actually feel like you’re sharing with other people.
Like the aforementioned movies, The Martian proves that mainstream cinema can be intelligent, as well as entertaining. The temptation would, of course, be to debate whether or not it’s better than Interstellar and Gravity, but I see it as a companion piece to both; the next instalment in what’s quickly becoming an annual, science fiction treat.
Films like The Martian excite me, not just from a visceral stand point, but because of what they represent; the very best of the movies. This is what can be achieved when the technological tools are made available to great film makers, and it’s something truly special to behold.
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