The audiobook version of Andy Weir’s The Martian was freaking awesome. It was a story appealing to the logically minded with a fancy for dry humour, wrought with the threat of mortifyingly slow, imposing, potato-based starvation and death, alone, on Mars. That idea of staying human and positive in the most distant, depressing and desolate of lands created a character and overall tone that brought Ridley Scott knocking but does he, Matt Damon and a year since his last released work do those written (and in my case, spoken; and epically might I add) words justice?
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is 1 of 6 members of NASA’s ARES III mission who’ve travelled a rather long way to their Space Igloo (HAB) on Mars to gather rocks and take sweet selfies when suddenly a sand-storm too intense for their tent forces them to abandon mission and planet and leave, ASAP. Unfortunately, part-way through abort procedure Mark is struck by remnants of dislodged communications equipment, knocking him away from the group physically and electronically as his personal comms fail and the rest of the team, assuming the worst, are forced to embark without him. Through a combination of kick-ass NASA tech, sand, metal and coagulated blood Mark’s suit remains pressurized and, upon regaining consciousness, mark returns to the HAB and plans his lonely survival.
Laying on some intense colour grading over what I guess is American desert creates a Mars that looks just as you’d expect it with understated and effective CGI background geographical features and wind effects that really help to suck the air out of any scene outside a safely pressurised environment. With the film being set in the near future the suits are adequately modern and awesome looking and I want one… sorry. The film really is a marvel to behold from the macro level to the minutiae of Watney’s predicament; from the tumbling glory of the Hermes spacecraft to the beauty recognised in the sprouting of a tater, Scott captures it. Props to the props department on the ARES mission equipment too, anything and everything Watney touched had that NASA sheen kids dream of. This factor is ameliorated by using a multitude of interesting camera angles including CCTV-like status cams in air-locks and rotating angles accentuating the transition between the weightless and artificial gravity sections of the HERMES.
The story unfolds as Watney himself describes as solving one problem that’s going to kill you, and then tackling the next one. Problem one, being struck with antenna debris, is whisked across the screen in a clear, trackable flurry of sand, flashing and dying and spinning hud display metrics and concerned close-ups created a thrilling opening sequence. From there on out Damon carries an extremely linear storyline consisting largely of maintaining vital living conditions – which may not be to everyone’s taste (Oh no this has happened, I must do this!) with low-energy sarcastic astronaut banter and successfully became the Mark Watney character I’d imagined. The passages of scientific reasoning behind Watney’s decisions are distilled masterfully through the exposition of his diary entries, keeping the ball rolling and the audience engaged in essentially watching potatoes grow.
Alongside the action on Mars the PR nightmare and rescue mission are tackled by NASA, Jet Propulsion Labs and other aerospace organisations. Big names including Chiwotel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Donald Glover give engaging performances and play their parts in a mission that clearly unites people around the world (a theme of the story – we’re more powerful when we work together). Alongside that, the other 5 HERMES crew members give a great insight into the social dynamic between a team of astronauts. Squeezing such an insane timespan (hundreds of sols (Mars days)), 3 parallel locations and giving so many characters a defined role in the story represents excellent editing and screenwriting, possibly worthy of an Oscar nod.
All in all, despite some cheesy deviations from the book, Ridley Scott’s adaptation was satisfying enough for me and everyone else in the cinema. Cheesy disco and many-a-revelation kept me entertained more than Gravity did but Interstellar still tops the recent space movies for me.
Houston I give this an 8/10.