Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Movie Review: The Martian

Some of you may recall that I really like The Martian, Andy Weir's self-published tale of a stranded NASA Astronaut on Mars. I've been wildly recommending it to anyone who will listen, or indeed anyone just in earshot at the time, and have had pretty good feedback from them too. Hooray for good, thoughtful SF novels! As you also may be aware from bus shelters and the like, The Martian has also been made into a movie, scripted by Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) and directed by Ridley Scott (actually quite a lot). With a bit of nifty footwork on the scheduling and child-minding front, we managed to get out to see it this week. 

Ridley Scott has become a bit of a geek punching bag in the last few years, after Prometheus - not even the worst Alien franchise movie, lets be honest - became a victim of  first insane hype and expectation and then a sort of ugly pile-on of hatred. I actually have a soft-spot for it, despite it's collapse into narrative gibberish in the final act, and it's certainly a stunningly good looking movie with a great cast, shame about the screenplay, I guess. Thankfully, The Martian has a great screenplay, and Scotts knack for sweeping visuals and spot-on acting talent. 

Opening with the early evacuation of the Ares 3 Mars Mission due to a dangerous storm that threatens to cripple their launch vehicle, Astronaut Mark Watney is hit by a chunk of flying debris and seemingly killed, the crew forced to abandon his body in order to safely get off the planet. Its a dramatic opening - and a scene you don't get until about half way through the book - which neatly establishes where we are and what we doing. Watney wakes up, freakishly alive, and finds himself stranded far from home, out of contact, and with some serious science to do if he is to survive. 

The movie then cuts between Watneys incremental problem-solving alone and the large-scale attempts at rescue back on Earth. I think it's fair to say that Watney gets about as much screen time as the rest of the cast back at NASA and on the Ares 3 crew put together, so the film largely hangs on Matt Damons winning performance as Watney, showing a lot of range whilst never letting go of his everyman charm. For the rest of the cast, it's a credit to Scott and his casting team that they've cast an array of actors who can take a small amount of material and make it stick. 

At heart, The Martian is a procedural where the enemy is the environment, and the film sticks close to the book in terms of incidents and accidents. It's doesn't really add anything, and where it cuts down it manages that in a clean way that I didn't really miss, although a couple of my favorite jokes didn't make it in. There is a great use of the Disco soundtrack on the whole, although the choices are sometimes a little too "on the nose" for me, but it's a minor quibble. On the whole The Martian is a gripping and enjoyable thriller - and after Moon, Gravity and Interstellar, it's great to see a real modern tradition of space movies starting to emerge.