(director: Ridley Scott; screenwriter: Drew Goddard/ based on the novel The Martian by Andy Weir; cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski; editor: Pietro Scalia; music: Harry Gregson-Williams; cast: Matt Damon (Mark Watney), Jessica Chastain (Melissa Lewis), Kristen Wiig (Annie Montrose), Jeff Daniels (Teddy Sanders), Michael Pena (Rick Martinez), Kate Mara (Beth Johanssen), Sean Bean (Mitch Henderson), Sebastian Stan (Chris Beck), Aksel Hennie (Alex Vogel), Donald Glover (Rich Purnell), Mackenzie Davis (Mindy Park), Benedict Wong (Bruce Ng), Chen Shu (Zhu Tao), Eddy Ko (Guo Ming), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Vincent Kapoor); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Simon Kinberg/Ridley Scott/Michael Schaefer/Aditya Sood/Mark Huffam; 20th Century Fox; 2015-3D)
“The script is so technical it could be used as a survival manual for being lost in outer space.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Legendary 77-year-old sci-fi filmmaker Ridley Scott(“Alien”/”Hannibal”/”Prometheus“) helms this crowd-pleasing jocular survival space movie. It’s possibly the ultimate survival space flick, and the geekiest. The 3-D movie is based on the bestselling novel The Martian by Andy Weir—a former software engineer. The witty and tech-laden screenplay is by Drew Goddard. The script is so technical it could be used as a survival manual for being lost in outer space. Its scientific accuracy is spot-on. The film is an optimistic take on the world coming together in a crisis. It also celebrates man’s pioneering spirit, ability to survive catastrophes and America’s “can do”attitude.
During a manned mission to Mars, NASA botanist Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets impaled by a communications antenna during a severe windstorm and is presumed dead when his crew abandons the mission and heads home without him. Watney, however, survives and finds himself alone on a hostile planet. He remains upbeat despite the dire circumstances and immediately begins a video log chronicling every move of his survival. Faced with meager food supplies, Watney uses his science ingenuity to plant potatoes by recycling his own wastes and makes water by burning rocket fuel. His wish is to survive for four years, at that time the next mission to Mars can rescue him. While Watney goes into a Robinson Crusoe survival mode, there’s contact with NASA. They argue amongst themselves on what to do, and at the Johnson Space Center site much time is spent on the ground over how to manage the rescue. While in space the nerdy Watney cracks jokes and forces himself to listen to disco records because that’s the only music around. The pic never veers from its survivalist scenario, and refrains from more ambitious aims–such as the much deeper in thought Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Jessica Chastain plays the guilt-ridden crew leader, who learns a few months later, while heading home, that Watney lives. Other crew members include Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie. The pompous director of NASA is played by Jeff Daniels, as the pic’s villain more concerned with good PR for the agency than the life of the missing astronaut. The Mars mission director is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, the flight director is played by Sean Bean, and the PR director is played by Kristen Wiig, who with others at NASA’s command center, such as Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis and the outsider science maven Donald Glover, try their best to find viable ways to bring Watney home alive.
The scenes where Chinese scientist get in the act to offer help, seems like just so much mush and pandering to give even our enemies some credit for being a world player. But by keeping its story simple, plausible and realistic, the pic never lost its bearings and makes for an absorbing and visually captivating space story. Ridley smartly directs it and the likable ‘everyman’ performance by Damon should make this big-budget epic space film a box office smash and a sci-fi classic.
REVIEWED ON 10/3/2015 GRADE: B