Saturday 7 July 2018

The Martian

Astronaut and Botanist Mark Watney, played very convincingly, but mostly clinically and bereft of emotion, by Matt Damon (The Bourne films, Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan), is left behind by his Mars mission crew, presumed dead following a storm. He survives and faces a 4 year survival plight alone before he can be rescued or indeed see another human being.

With resources running out, a lot of the film is centred around how he uses his knowledge of science to survive - and that actually forms the the most interesting part of the film. How he works out how to eat, live, breathe and communicate with the NASA team on Earth, who, like the departing crew, initially presume him dead.

The NASA nerds are then working furiously to support his attempts by utilising teams of people to work on certain elements of survival and return, while the authorities make decisions about the cost and value of saving one man. Teddy Sanders, played by Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, Speed, Radio Days, The Purple Rose of Cairo), is at the helm of the decision making at NASA and portrays the man-in-charge well. He's such an experienced and accomplished actor that he's likely to make a good job of most roles he takes on now.

The Mars landscape shots are breathtakingly portrayed as barren, dusty and inhospitable which adds to the ambience created about isolation and loneliness, though this is somewhat diminished for the viewer here as the narrative includes, in great measure, the two sides of the rescue mission and eventual open communication between the planets. A different approach from, say, Cast Away, where for pretty much the whole film, the audience stays with Tom Hanks on the island, creating an even greater feeling of isolation.

Having established a solid foothold for a great idea and story, it's a shame that the film makers then felt the need to ultimately blur the outcome by depicting the population of the world standing shoulder-to-shoulder watching giant screens with live news feeds in capitals across Earth rooting for success. This made it feel much more like a cliched formulaic 'disaster movie' in which Westerners bring the world together for a common goal. You know the ones! It really didn't need this (I guess it maximises box-office income!) because the winner in this film is of course the science. For people who have nerdy leanings, it's a suspense mystery, not about whodunit, but the adventure and puzzles of overcoming obstacles with science, mathematics and reason. And in that respect, it could have stood alone.

It's based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir and folk tell me to read that, as the scientific nerdy stuff is gone into in much greater detail for those of us who wished that the film had been made slightly differently. I must do that. But for now, this was my second viewing of the film and I enjoyed it. If you can ignore the aforementioned formulaic-movie-for-money aspect, I would certainly recommend it for Bank Holiday afternoon viewing. As I review, it's available via NowTV subscription in the UK, but probably elsewhere too.

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