DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Drew Goddard • PRO: Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Pietro Scalia • MUS: Lorne Balfe • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Harry Gregson-Williams • CAST: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor
When a violent sandstorm forces a team of astronauts to cut short their mission to Mars, one of their number is hit by a large piece of equipment and lost in the storm. With no time to search, his crewmates are forced to assume that he’s dead and take off for Earth without him. Luckily, or perhaps anything but luckily, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is very much alive, though his situation doesn’t look too good. With the crew’s living quarters and food supply still intact, Watney is able to take shelter and tend to his own injuries, but without the means to signal his crew or anyone on Earth, his survival in the long term becomes much less certain.
Left with enough food and water for several months, Watney knows that the next planned trip to Mars isn’t scheduled to arrive for another four years and sets about trying to grow his own food and make contact with the people of Earth. With only television shows, his own video journal and an unfortunately disco-heavy music collection for company, Watney’s hopes for ever seeing another human soul, or living past a year rest entirely on his own resourcefulness and tenacity, or to put it in his own words “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option; I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”
While Watney improvises a home on the surface of Mars, NASA eventually realises that their casualty of exploration is still alive and kicking and the question of whether he can even be saved is soon raised. Once the public catches wind of Watney’s situation, that question gets a very strong answer, but as Watney’s equipment, only intended to last for a few months, starts to give out, the rescue mission starts to look like an utterly lost cause.
At well over two hours, The Martian manages to keep its tension and energy throughout. Damon is superb as Watney, managing to emanate personality and wit while also carrying the terror and isolation of being the only person on the planet and it’s hard not to become completely engrossed in his fight to survive. Meanwhile, a heavyweight cast at Houston and in Watney’s crew manage to capture the desperation of the situation on an entirely different level. In particular, Teddy Sanders, the director of NASA (Jeff Daniels) and Mitch Henderson, the crew’s liaison (Sean Bean) clash over exactly how to go about saving their lost astronaut and whether or not it’s entirely worth it.
The Martian is hardly the first tale of isolation and survival audiences have seen. Perhaps in a world of growing satellite systems and GPS, we’ve lost any sense of awe at the prospect of being stranded on a desert island and so the stakes are presented on a much grander level. The Martian is, at its core, Castaway for the cynical space age, with building a shelter replaced by growing potatoes using one’s own excrement, building a raft replaced with customising a Mars rover and Wilson the volleyball omitted entirely.
While the tale is one we’ve seen before, this film truly captures the scale of being millions of miles from everything you’ve ever known, of being the only person on an entire world and the all too often overlooked importance of having a really good desert island playlist.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Martian is released 2nd October 2015