Damon, Scott book a re­turn into space in ‘The Mar­tian’

The China Post - - ARTS - BY JAKE COYLE

“The Mar­tian” was briefly stranded in Hol­ly­wood de­vel­op­ment when Ri­d­ley Scott reached out to Matt Damon, the star at­tached to the stalled pro­jected.

The script by Drew God­dard (“Cabin in the Woods”) from Andy Weir’s novel was full of the kind of nerdy hu­mor and science geek­ery that few would as­so­ciate with the mas­cu­line epics Scott is known for. But the 77-year-old Bri­tish di­rec­tor tends not to con­cern him­self with such tri­fles.

“He goes, ‘We’ve never met,”’ re­calls Damon, bark­ing an im­pres­sion of the no-non­sense Scott. “And I said, ‘No, we’ve never met.’ He goes, ‘The script is good!’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘It’s (ex­ple­tive) great.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Why aren’t we mak­ing this?’ I said, ‘I guess we are.’”

The un­ex­pected com­bi­na­tions of tal­ent that went into mak­ing “The Mar­tian” are fit­ting for a movie of such hy­brid en­ter­tain­ments. It’s a space tale more grounded in science fact than fic­tion; a 3D pop­corn movie full of math­e­mat­ics; an ode to science that’s funny.

“The Mar­tian,” which 20th Cen­tury Fox will re­lease Fri­day, is that rare earthly crea­ture: a block­buster with brains. There may be wa­ter on Mars, as NASA an­nounced Mon­day, but there’s been a drought at the mul­ti­plex.

Damon stars as as­tro­naut Mark Wat­ney, whose crewmem­bers, think­ing him dead from a fly­ing piece of de­bris, leave him be­hind on Mars as they rush to flee a sand storm. Alone on the red planet, Wat­ney’s fate is seem­ingly sealed, but through his own sci­en­tific in­ge­nu­ity, im­pro­vises his sur­vival. NASA (in­clud­ing an ensem­ble of Jeff Daniels, Chi­we­tel Ejio­for and Jes­sica Chas­tain) mounts a res­cue mis­sion with its own sci­en­tific dex­ter­ity.

Rarely has there been a film more cel­e­bra­tory of the space pro­gram and the prob­lem-solv­ing power of science. NASA has em­braced the film with ce­les­tial warmth, screen­ing it for the crew on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

The soli­tary ex­treme of “The Mar­tian” may be rem­i­nis­cent of “Grav­ity,” but its close­ness to another re­cent space drama in­fused with the spirit of space ex­plo­ration — Christo­pher Nolan’s “In­ter­stel­lar,” in which Damon was also alone on a dis­tant planet — gave the ac­tor pause.

Damon (who spoke in a re­cent in­ter­view be­fore com­ments he made about di­ver­sity and sex­u­al­ity drew crit­i­cism) took a year and a half off from act­ing while his fam­ily (he has four daugh­ters with wife Lu­ciana Bar­roso) moved to Los An­ge­les. “The Mar­tian” was his first film since “In­ter­stel­lar.”

“I said, ‘Look, I’m in Chris’s movie. I’m stranded on a planet,’” Damon re­calls telling Scott. “If I then fol­low that up with a guy stranded on a planet.”

The di­rec­tor sought out Nolan to see an early cut of “In­ter­stel­lar” and de­cided the sim­i­lar­ity wasn’t an is­sue. “I mean, they’re mak­ing another Bat­man movie al­ready,” laughs Damon, al­lud­ing to the up­com­ing role for his friend, Ben Af­fleck.

Space, of course, is also a fa­mil­iar fron­tier to Scott, who for­ever en­deared him­self to sci-fi fans early in his ca­reer with “Blade Run­ner” and “Alien.” Decades later, he’s found him­self firmly back in the genre with “The Mar­tian” and 2013’s “Prometheus,” for which he’s cur­rently prep­ping one and, he says, pos­si­bly two se­quels.

“I loved it,” says Scott. “I re­al­ized on the first day how much I missed it.”

“The Mar­tian,” which largely drew raves out of its pre­miere at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, has been por­trayed as a re­turn-to-form for Scott fol­low­ing crit­i­cal dis­ap­point­ments like “Ex­o­dus” ( which was slammed for its largely white cast) and his Cor­mac McCarthy adap­ta­tion “The Coun­selor.”

“The press can be very neg­a­tive,” Scott says. “I never let it get to me, not for a long time. The last time I got up­set about press was ‘Blade Run­ner.’ No one liked it.”

AP

This photo re­leased by 20th Cen­tury Fox shows Matt Damon in a scene from the film, “The Mar­tian.”

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