THE MAR­TIAN

Curs­ing his luck

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Ian Ber­ri­man

Ri­d­ley Scott re­turns to SF as Matt Damon tries to re­turn to Earth.

re­leased 8 Fe­bru­ary 2015 | 12 | Blu- ray 3D/ Blu- ray/ DVD

Di­rec­tor Ri­d­ley Scott

Cast Matt Damon, Jes­sica Chas­tain, Kris­ten Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean

Quite aside from its entertainment value, it’s prob­a­bly a good idea to watch The Mar­tian. The mem­ory will be a use­ful thing to have in your men­tal ar­moury for the times ev­ery­thing seems to be go­ing wrong: when you get a flat tyre some­where with no mo­bile sig­nal; when your sofa gets jammed half­way up a stair­case; when your hard drive dies and you re­alised you last backed up five years ago. When those an­noy­ing days come, you’ll be able to shrug, re­flect that you don’t have it any­where near as bad as Mark Wat­ney, and crack on with find­ing a so­lu­tion.

Matt Damon is the tit­u­lar “Mar­tian”, an as­tro­naut left stranded on the Red Planet after a disas­trous dust storm causes his crew­mates to blast off, con­vinced that he is dead. To stay alive, the botanist must de­vise ingenious ways to grow food, com­mu­ni­cate with Earth, and ex­tend the life­span of a habi­tat only de­signed to last a month.

The Mar­tian’s strengths and weak­nesses are, to a great ex­tent, those of Andy Weir’s orig­i­nal novel, a self- pub­lish­ing phe­nom­e­non on its re­lease in 2011. That opens with the sen­tence, “I’m pretty much fucked”, and Damon’s por­trayal is ev­ery bit as potty- mouthed. The la­conic way Wat­ney com­mu­ni­cates in vlogs and – even­tu­ally – in trans­mis­sions to NASA col­leagues back on Earth and crew­mates mak­ing the trip home makes him a like­able char­ac­ter, one who’s very easy to iden­tify with. The fact that this led to a Golden Globe in the Com­edy Or Mu­si­cal cat­e­gory is down­right ab­surd, mind. The Mar­tian is no more a com­edy be­cause it con­tains light- hearted ban­ter than it is a mu­si­cal be­cause from time to time Wat­ney grooves to cheesy ’ 70s disco.

As well as be­ing grounded by its reg­u­lar- guy hero, The Mar­tian also has the ring of sci­en­tific authen­tic­ity. Weir scrupu­lously re­searched his so­lu­tions, de­tail­ing them at length. In good news for those who tend to glaze over dur­ing the sci­ence stuff, the movie pares these down to the bare min­i­mum – although even so, there’s still some truth to Richard Ayoade’s witty ob­ser­va­tion that the movie is, “the most ex­pen­sive YouTube tu­to­rial video ever made”. Only once does cred­i­bil­ity com­pletely col­lapse – right at the end, dur­ing the fi­nal sec­onds of Wat­ney’s res­cue, with a touch de­vised for Drew God­dard’s screen­play which feels like it be­longs in a su­per­hero movie. At least they have the good grace to ac­knowl­edge that by namecheck­ing Iron Man.

If there’s one thing you might wish for more of from the book, it’s emo­tional vul­ner­a­bil­ity – and this is a crit­i­cism that ap­plies to the film too. Wat­ney goes hun­dreds of days never see­ing an­other hu­man be­ing in the flesh, with­out so much as draw­ing a face on a volleyball. Yet, bar­ring some strag­gly beard growth, there’s barely a hint of the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect this must have on his men­tal health. What­ever new calamity be­falls him, he just gets on with it. The guy’s a Chum­bawamba lyric

A hymn to the hu­man ca­pac­ity for prob­lem solv­ing

made flesh. In fair­ness, you could ar­gue that this, too, is au­then­tic, since as­tro­nauts on a mis­sion of such great length would be psy­cho­log­i­cally tested for just such a level of re­silience. Still, you can’t help feel­ing that a few more signs of cracks would make Wat­ney’s even­tual sal­va­tion all the sweeter.

But these are mi­nor nit­picks, re­ally. Cre­at­ing a world so be­liev­able that the ef­fects work doesn’t even reg­is­ter as such, de­liv­er­ing the sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing a like­able hero over­com­ing one life- threat­en­ing sce­nario after an­other, and leav­en­ing it with hu­mour, this hymn to the hu­man ca­pac­ity for prob­lem- solv­ing has all the punch- the- air ap­peal of the real- life story of Apollo 13.

Ex­tras Pretty slim pick­ings. The DVD just has a gag reel ( eight min­utes), a trailer and five “the­atri­cal in- world pieces”, pre­vi­ously avail­able on­line ( 13 min­utes). Only one of these is re­ally worth your time; it fea­tures a psy­chol­o­gist in­ter­view­ing the crew after iso­la­tion tests, with Wat­ney re­veal­ing that while in soli­tary for ten days he grap­pled with the big is­sues like, “How come Aquaman can con­trol whales? Whales are mam­mals!” Valid point.

The Blu- ray adds a gallery of pro­duc­tion art; “Ares III: Re­fo­cused”, a faux doc­u­men­tary look­ing back at Mark’s res­cue seven years later ( 17 min­utes); and two fea­turettes. “Sig­nal Ac­quired: Writ­ing And Di­rec­tion” ( 10 min­utes) in­ter­views the likes of Ri­d­ley Scott and Andy Weir, while “Oc­cupy Mars” ( 14 min­utes) yokes to­gether cast in­ter­views and a look at the space­suit de­signs.

In re­al­ity, a Mar­tian storm is no big deal. The at­mo­spheric pres­sure’s so low that the fastest wind would feel like a breeze.

Some peo­ple will go to any lengths to hide their cannabis plants from the po­lice.

World’s Strong­est Man was just get­ting silly.

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