D: Ridley Scott. DP: Dariusz Wolski. W: Drew Goddard (Based on Andy Weir’s novel of the same name). Starring: Matt Damon/Jessica Chastain/Chiwetel Ejiofer/Jeff Daniels/Kristen Wiig/Kate Mara/Sebastian Stan/Michael Peña/Aksel Henne/Mackenzie Davis/Donald Glover/Sean Bean.
Ridley Scott’s newest venture has sky rocketed in the box office over the weekend. The Martian will probably put Scott back on the sci-fi map, which is a credit to its source material and its star, Matt Damon. Even at nearly forty-five, Damon’s boyish charm and Jason Bourne determination make him an enjoyable force on screen.
I skipped out on Scott’s directorial effort Exodus: Gods and Kings last year and feel confident in that decision. Yet I did make time to see 2012’s Prometheus and even 2010’s Robin Hood. For me Prometheus was a mixed bag, but the lore of the Alien franchise was not something I was deeply connected to. Here in The Martian Scott is free from any baggage and seems to have a clearer hold on the story he wants to tell.
Based on Andy Weir’s initially self-published novel, The Martian is the story of astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Damon) who is stranded on Mars following an injury during an emergency planet evacuation with his fellow crew-members. Thought to be dead, the crew starts their return home and he wakes up to the daunting task of feeding himself until the next Mars crew arrives in four years. Back on earth NASA eventually figures out Watney is alive and how to communicate with him and the rescue mission plans begin. The novel is a science heavy survival story with loads of humor that thankfully makes it into the film.
A difficult adaptation, Drew Goddard’s script does well in trying to balance Watney’s computer diary with the real rescue plan at home. Goddard previously adapted World War Z for the screen and co-wrote with Joss Whedon the fabulous Cabin in the Woods. Goddard’s script cannot match the wit of the novel, but that is simply because we cannot have a two hour film of just Damon making jokes. The best stick around, but the conventionality or studio glossing as I see it comes in back on earth, especially in a silly coda ending. The momentum is lost with Dr. Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofer) and a lot of the tension between the higher ups is diluted to humor and actor Sean Bean being able to say the Lord of the Rings joke from the book. Same can be said about the Mars crew, they aren’t given a chance to shine really, acting more as a catalyst for Watney’s escape possibilities.
The Martian however overcomes this with a visual palette that reiterates why mankind is so obsessed with space travel. Mars and Watney’s gadgets are a great backdrop for Damon’s exploration into how to really survive on the planet. Ultimately that is the joy of the film and the book. To see this character really figure out all the technology and science he needs to try to make it home. The Martian will surely continue to do well and makes me hopeful that Scott’s next movie might be even better.