Director Ridley Scott and science fiction have a long association, from breakthrough Alien and Blade Runner in his earlier days to Prometheus and its upcoming sequels he has (arguably) a fairly good track record in the style. So, it was with some anticipation that I headed into his slightly more factually styled new sci-fi movie, The Martian.
The film, based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir, is the story of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally marooned on Mars and of his subsequent attempts to survive and the mission to rescue him – which all sounds like it might be pretty heavy going.
Thankfully as soon as Watney fires up his video diary its clear this isn’t all going to be serious and worthy. Throughout the film a surprising streak of humour remains intact, which, if anything, makes the whole thing feel all the more real (despite it being about a man stuck on mars).
Damon is alone on-screen for a fair chunk of the film and his performance is flawless. Despite the humour at no point did it over step the mark and he created a perfectly balanced delivery with genuine moments of jubilation and despair along the way.
Away from Watney on Mars we get the efforts of NASA and their associates on Earth to rescue their lost man. Again these keep the streak of humour going despite the serious story and there are more solid performances to be had.
Sean Bean is a surprisingly cast flight director, but brings a human element to proceedings to counterpoint Jeff Daniels’ NASA boss. Many have referred to Daniels as the films ‘bad guy’ and, while he is the man with the tough decisions to make, and he doesn’t always make the ethically best ones, I never felt he was really a ‘bad guy’ as such.
As the film goes on tension is ratcheted up more and more building to an expertly staged attempted rescue sequence that genuinely left me unsure which way it was going to go – quite a feat in mainstream cinema.
Aside from the general tense adventure side of things there was a mild undercurrent of a vaguely political message running through the films second half. While an interesting idea this never really felt properly explored so was just a bit of a strange addition that gave the movie a nice positive send off message, but little else.
That’s a minor quibble though as for the rest Scott delivered possibly his best and most consistent work since his 1980s heyday with great performances from all involved and some very impressive, but all not typical blockbuster ‘spectacle’ style special effects that made the whole thing feel real. Added to that at no point in films more than two hours did I feel the need to check the time as I was immersed in the story and world so expertly rendered on the screen.