Ahead of it’s October 2, 2015 premiere date, Fantastic Fest 2015 attendees got a sneak-peek at Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama “The Martian” on September, 29, 2015. And by this reviewer’s account (and the enthusiastic audience reception), its easily Scott’s best film since 2000’s “Gladiator.”
The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, which tells the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut left behind from an expedition to Mars, when his fellow crewmates believed he perished in a storm, leaving him to try to find a way to survive for several years while waiting for a rescue mission.
Scott’s film is an unusual bit of science fiction laced with as much factual or theoretical scientific jargon to make its premise believable. But where a film like this would normally be played sober with such life of death stakes, “The Martian” is quite comedic, with the goodnatured Watney keeping his cool and sense of humor while growing crops using his own waste, and finding an old space-probe to communicate back with NASA on Earth.
The NASA crew, lead by head honcho Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) are in a moral dilemma. They realize they are in a race against time to rescue Watney before he runs out of food, but finding a solution proves taxing, and they don’t want to inform his crew (led by Jessica Chastain) so as not to distract their focus on returning home. This creates a plot ripe with conflict and tension with Damon trying to hold on to his sanity and sense of hope.
It’s fascinating that both Damon and Chastain are appearing in a space mission film so close to their roles in “Interstellar”, and Damon in particular, playing like an alternate universe character of his role as another astronaut left for dead on a planetoid waiting to be rescued. But whereas his “Interstellar” character snapped from loneliness, Watney is all steely resolve.
Perhaps too much so. That’s the biggest leap in logic, because a sense of cabin fever stir-crazy despair would be a real-life issue for anyone trapped in precious isolation for so long. But the film’s breezy, cheerful, and practical (as in Watney’s own words) ability to “science the s— out of this”, gives the film a boost of optimism that might just prove inspirational for future astronauts, even more so given our recent discovery that Mars has potential signs of life. Drew Goddard’s screenplay adaptation nails the science aspects without overcomplicating the story or confusing the viewer.
While the ending might be a bit hokey, the film has a winning energy that proves irresistible, and makes it one of the best pictures of 2015, and an apologia of sorts for Scott’s messy “Alien” prequel “Prometheus”, proving he can still nail sci-fi given a concrete story to blast off with.