The Martian is Matt Damon‘s character, Mark Watney, part of the six-strong Ares III mission, visiting the red planet to collect soil samples etc. Unfortunately, some planet seem to have worse weather than Greater Manchester (yes, I know, it’s a rarity) and the upshot is that Watney is marooned on Mars after being assumed dead.
As you’ll know from the basic premise, he’s still alive but on a planet where nothing grows, he has around 30 days of supplies and has to make it last four years until the next mission, Ares IV, touches down there. Thankfully, he was the botanist on the mission so knows about planting seeds to make food and creating water in order to help them along, since it’s kinda essential. But when you’re a man with nothing to lose, you’ll try anything. However, the sticking points include that no-one knows he’s alive and he has no way of contacting NASA, and the battery in the one remaining Mars Rover won’t get him to the Ares 4 landing site, which is several thousand miles away.
This is a fantastic ‘Robinson Crusoe’ premise, but it gets a bit preposterous that, with no reason to look at the post-take off satellite maps of Mars, NASA’s Mars mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) comes into the room blabbering on about how he wants some satellite time to identify and sell the remaining stocks of supplies left behind on Mars, presumably to sell to countries hosting future missions since otherwise how would you get them off the surface? However, with that, they deduce Mark is alive, and so sets the train of thought in motion about what to do next – do you rescue him sooner rather than later? And how? And will he survive by the time they get there?
There’s a number of humourous moments, including Mark bemoaning running out of ketchup, since that is also one of my staple foods. Also, there’s the fact that the only music he’s stuck with is disco, left behind by Ares III Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), so when Gloria Estefan‘s Turn the Beat Around blares out, he responds, “No, I will NOT turn the beat around, thankyou very much(!)”
Some of this music is also quite poignant, such as with ABBA singing about “finally facing my Waterloo”, David Bowie – “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky” and, of course, Gloria Gaynor‘s I Will Survive.
However, despite it never feeling too rushed or too slow, the storytelling is very flat and the whole tale feels very pedestrian in its delivery, especially with a cast that’s going through the motions of “Here’s problem A. Let’s work out a solution. Here’s the solution. Oh, look, now there’s problem B!” and so on.
As for the rest of the cast, it was fun to see Nick Mohammed, from the CBBC sketch show Sorry I’ve Got No Head – and I’d love to see that show get a movie version, just like Horrible Histories has with Bill, but not a single other member onscreen was really firing on any cyclinders, from a Martian space rocket or otherwise.
I saw The Martian in 3D, and despite director Ridley Scott falling in love with the format, and in shooting movies in 3D, with Prometheus, I felt that here it wasn’t used a great deal. Yes, the visuals of Mars are stunning but Prometheus had a number of scenes cleverly mixing on-set filming with computer graphics, as well as filming entirely in a world that’s alien*, if you’ll pardon the phrasing, and with the IMAX version being a combination of open-matte and some shots cropped from 2.35:1 to give a bigger impression on the large screen, the 3D was incredible. Here, apart from the occasional establishing shot, it does not feel well-used. There’s a lot of scenes set on Earth, in this film, which mostly consist of NASA employees sitting around, and like with the recent Everest, such a scene does not a useful example of 3D make.
(*I take into account that both movies were partly filmed in the valley of Wadi Rum, in Jordan, which has been used for many Mars-based outings over the years).
The Martian is one of those films where it’s best not to know too much before you see it. If you’ve seen the trailer, that’s enough.
Running time: 144 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Format: 2.35:1 Redcode RAW (6K), H.264 (4K)
Released: September 30th 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Producers: Mark Huffam, Simon Kinberg, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott and Aditya Sood
Screenplay: Drew Goddard (based on the novel by Andy Weir)
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Mark Watney: Matt Damon
Melissa Lewis: Jessica Chastain
Annie Montrose: Kristen Wiig
Teddy Sanders: Jeff Daniels
Rick Martinez: Michael Peña
Mitch Henderson: Sean Bean
Beth Johanssen: Kate Mara
Chris Beck: Sebastian Stan
Alex Vogel: Aksel Hennie
Vincent Kapoor: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Bruce Ng: Benedict Wong
Mindy Park: Mackenzie Davis
Rich Purnell: Donald Glover
Tim Grimes: Nick Mohammed
Zhu Tao: Chen Shu
Guo Ming: Eddy Ko
Mike Watkins: Enzo Cilenti
Brendan Hatch: Jonathan Aris
Jack: Gruffudd Glyn
Ryoko: Naomi Scott
U.S. President: Geoffrey Thomas
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.