Cursing his luck
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.
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