I went into The Martian (2015) with an open mind and the recent news that evidence that water has been on the surface of the planet where the majority of the survival sci-fi film’s set. I’m also come off the memory of The Last Days on Mars (2013) which in all fairness is a horror film. This is supposed to be a straight up sci-fi, coming from Ridley Scott who I have trouble at times trying to define in terms of directorial style beyond the words epic and dark. This is not a straight up science fiction, there is all the ingredients to make it so however. You have the crew of the third Airess mission that is only a few days away from completing their time on the red planet. Back home on Earth we have N.A.S.A. who is running the third of 5 missions. So on the face it does have all the necessary.
It looses that edge however of being intelligent enough to be taken seriously, I’m not saying Interstellar serious but a middle ground’s met with a heap of disco music which for me really starts to take away any real substance and weight the film can carry. That’s not to say its a bad move, it’s far from that at all. I guess it’s an interesting blend of lost in space movies and adding a lot of lighter tones to engage a wider audience. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of Scott’s films thought which has me scratching my head at times. Maybe he’s taking a new direction or just taking a break before he goes back in for more Blade Runner and the Prometheus which should keep him going for the next few years. Is this his Trance (2013) as Danny Boyle has done before getting back on it.
So what makes it work then? I think as previous reviews have stated, its one simple reasons – Matt Damon who has held the film together. The lone soul and botanist Mark Watney who is left behind by his crew in an emergency evacuation of the planet during a storm. He has to learn to survive, find a way to prolong his life for as many Sol’s as possible, (days in space days I think). He plays this incredible upbeat guy who is left to use all his knowledge to grow plants. Instead of being a series of short scenes talking to a computer whilst living on his own, he keeps a video log of his time up there. It’s like a vlog that we have paid a one-off subscription to, there’s no sign that he’s giving up here. you could see it a series of “how to survive alone on Mars” that has yet to hit YouTube. Just give it a few weeks and it will be there. He retains a sense of optimism that is contagious without becoming irritably happy about it. There are huge shots of reality that hit him. He knows he’s probably going to die alone up here, its how he wants to spend the remainder of his day.
With the only thing that really makes this film works I must turn to what doesn’t. It doesn’t lack acting talent, I can’t fault that, there are none of his regulars “cough” Russell Crowe. Scott’s gone for a completely fresh cast here, you could say more mainstream, familiar even. I think once we leave Mars and hover between Earth and the Space-ship making its way home we start to see cracks, polished but cracks nonetheless. For me its the time on Earth, first why have they renamed the Kennedy Centre the Johnson centre? I can’t get my head around that. It feels like we have gone into an alternate reality. I really can’t see Jeff Daniels as head of N.A.S.A. (Teddy Sander) which seems a little too light for me. There are some good casting choices when it comes to Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor who leads the missions and the rescue mission they discover that Watney is indeed alive.
It does however follow a more realistic looking into that what scenario, there’s no mass panic or hysteria its all controlled and chilled. Maybe a little too chilled at times, thankfully with no interference from the White House, it’s all contained at the HQ more or less. None of the characters are larger than life, it’s all very low-key that allows the audience to relate which explains the tone of the film. Probably going a little too far with the music at times, possibly some personal indulgence going on there. I couldn’t shake either Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Boogie Nights (1998) in terms of soundtrack.
The focus is however in the right place, with the people, not the media who which would re-shape how we would perceive the story-line. There’s no politics, we understand and never lose sight of what is at stake, one mans life, whose using his initiative to survive. A man whose not your standard astronaut, but someone who we can all relate to and engage with. Its light with serious moments, yet for Scott maybe a little too light. I must say however having seen the film in 3D it feels rather pointless and sometimes distractingly so. I could take off my glasses and still have a decent image, its redundant, not really benefiting from a format that has long-lost its appeal, needing to be used more appropriately. So to round things off, I did enjoy myself, we did see out hero face a lot and still make it. Damon was the only really fully fleshed person and he was cut off from it all. We needed to spend more time with these other great people who were all after the same thing. There wasn’t any real enemy but time itself working against them which is another flaw maybe. I think it could have been much better at times, better use of the situation.