Following Prometheus, Ridley Scott returns to SciFi with The Martian. It’s easy to forget that he helmed two flicks in-between. After all, the director behind the seminal Alien and Bladerunner made his name (and perhaps his legacy) in science fiction. So what about the man who made Thelma and Louise or Matchstick Men work? Well, The Martian shows us that man is still very much part and parcel of the prolific director. Based on the book by Andy Weir, a member of the Ares 3 crew gets left behind, on Mars, with the left overs of the mission and his considerable brain pan.
However, The Martian is really about so much more. While it’s certainly not an examination of the human condition, it's more an explantion of it’s spirit and resilience. Whether Scott has been honing his more human side all these years is a question for another time. However, Martian’s real success is a director confident enough to step out of the way of his own film. Whether it’s the sheer comfort of being the conductor of this celluloid symphony or knowing exactly what the film needs and when. The result is a movie that hits all the right notes and stays in time. It’s equal parts funny and thrilling without tipping over the precipice of either.
For anyone looking for the hallmarks of a Ridley Scott film, you will be pleased to find Moebius-inspired NASA spacesuits and the attention to detail that really sell every functioning panel or air lock. Prometheus may have looked stunning, but it always felt the narrative or characterisation was secondary. Here, however, Kubrick is dialled-down and Scott has allowed a little Cameron…or even Michael Bay to creep in. Don’t worry, there are no orange filters or sweeping dolly shots in mission control to amp the tension. No overwrought exchanges from profusely sweating characters. Simply a story elegantly told with real heart.
Matt Damon is also to be commended as the success is (in no small part) down to him. Rather than go for the overblown Oscar-Baiting of one man carrying a story, he straddles the divide between NASA-grade botanist and wry commentator, by making Mark Watney an every-man. A man who can laugh at himself, make quips and still stand tall in the face of adversity. It’s not an easy job to make someone capable enough to “Science the shit out of it,” and not be the kind of boffin you want to steal dinner money from.
Whomever is to be lauded, The Martian’s success is more than apparent come credit call. You will feel like you’ve been through it. You participate rather than watch from the other side of the silver screen.
5* – The Return of the Ridley