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Thursday, 1 October 2015

Film Review: The Martian (2015)

magine being marooned 140 million miles away from Earth, with almost no chance of survival. Perhaps, having only yourself for companionship is made even more terrifying if you are a character from a recent Ridley Scott film, as you’ll probably be thoroughly uninteresting company.

The Martian, adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard, is based on the novel by Andy Weir. I was sceptical of this much-loved bestseller being adapted into the latest Sci-Fi movie from Ridley Scott. However, unlike Prometheus, in which the most compelling character was a monotone android, The Martian has more in common with the director’s earlier masterpieces.

Perhaps due to great source material, it stands beside the likes of Alien and Blade Runner because you care about the characters. Although compared with Scott’s previous Sci-Fi works, the film has a much more optimistic tone – an almost utopian view of space exploration peppered with disco music.

Our hero, (Matt Damon), through vlog-esque status updates, provides intimacy and humour to a film which had potential to become another humdrum Hollywood CGI-fest. It avoids the dry technical specifics of the novel, managing to find just the right balance between science and heart.

Weir’s hero (and his colourful use of language) is toned-down for the 12 certificate, but Damon delivers a performance that is solid, although perhaps not remarkable. He portrays Watney with dry wit and calm resourcefulness, keeping us rooting for him. Even the characters on Earth, attempting to rescue their stranded comrade while battling a PR nightmare, for the most part provide an engaging backdrop to Mark’s struggle for survival.

However, the film is not without tired tropes. We could have done without Donald Glover’s uninspired contribution as the coffee-slurping nerd astronomer. And the eye-rolling way scientists pause dramatically mid-sentence to have a ‘eureka!’ moment would feel more appropriate in a children’s cartoon. There were also times when the overly expository captions and dialogue felt uncharacteristically dumbed-down.

Despite these flaws, The Martian is what a big-budget blockbuster should be. Featuring great cinematography and set-design, it is a nail-biting, well-paced, lovingly-made film.

It celebrates the kind of hero that deserves celebrating: Mark is a hero not because he saves the day with muscles, lasers or explosions. He is a hero because he is a genius, a Botanist using his ingenuity, all the while winning our hearts as a charming everyman who needs to “science the shit out of this!”

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