Featuring:: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Drew Goddard (screenplay) adapted from the novel by Andy Weir
Movie website: www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-martian
Australian release date: Thu 1 Oct
Verdict: Fun, entertaining, and refreshing in its hope and optimism.
This is going to be a box office smash. That’s not to say it’s a great movie – it’s not. But it is enjoyable and gripping, different from yer usual sci-fi in that there are no monsters or bad guys, and the science is well figured out and sounds theoretically plausible despite some far-fetched elements. But perhaps most significant of all it is well-timed.
See, although the narrative is set in the not-too-distant future, it hearkens back to the early days of space travel when the world watched in awe as America landed a man on the moon, and people of all nations shared a sense of ownership and pride, because there was the feeling that we were all in this together. Space travel was romantic and ennobling, turning our focus as a species outwards to a wondrous universe that suddenly seemed accessible. America’s technological triumph belonged to planet Earth, to humanity. A man on the moon signified something great, a “giant leap for mankind”.
Well, that’s not how it turned out. That moment of global unity now seems a long, long way away. Manned space travel to new frontiers has long ago ceased. America has been discredited, no longer represents the ideal it once was, and planet Earth has never been so divided. And now along comes Ridley Scott with this baby boomer fantasy of restoring space travel and global unity and America to an earlier time of hope and multinational goodwill and triumph. And for 2 hours in a cinema, the fantasy delivers.
The story centres on biologist astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who is left behind on Mars, presumed dead, after his crew abandons their mission and takes off into space to escape an horrendous storm. With a limited store of food and at least 4 years before the next mission to Mars will arrive, his survival depends on his ingenuity, scientific knowledge and maintaining resilience in the face of impossible odds. Using his faeces to fertilise the Martian soil and some chemistry improvisation to produce water, he plants potatoes, and sets about devising a way to make contact with NASA.
Of course he is successful, and NASA draws on the intellectual resources of the world’s most gifted science nerds, including some in China, to attempt to rescue their space-age Robinson Crusoe, whose plight soon captures global attention. It’s warming at a time when humanity is so inward-looking, self-centred and divided, to encounter the notion of all of humanity joined in goodwill and hope for a single member of the species trapped on a distant planet. And that’s why I say The Martian is well-timed.
The film’s entertainment value is enhanced by a directorial lightness of touch. Ridley Scott isn’t trying to do a 2001 A Space Odyssey here. He is not taking himself or the film too seriously. There are some hokey scenes in which the use of miniature models is obvious, for instance, although the special effects are generally impressive, and never more so than the opening Martian storm scenes, which utilise 3D to terrific effect. And there is a lot of humour (not all of it successful) in between the dramatics.
One gripe: most of the music that features is circa 70s or earlier. This seems odd, and jars. It’s a Boomer imprint that is out of place in a future time setting. As are Watney’s jibes about the 70s disco recordings one of his crew members has left behind. That said, the use of Bowie’s Starman is a high point of the film, shiver-inducing.
Overall, The Martian is refreshingly positive, and carries with it a pertinent and important message while it entertains. I hope it’s the smash I think it will be. We need that message, and we need the hope and optimism that the film is built upon. Who knows – maybe it will sow a seed in the young and inspire a new era of manned space exploration and future dreaming. Beats the hell out of the devolution we are currently going through.
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