Finally a science fiction movie that is full of hard science. Where a big name director actually takes the time to look into theoretical physics and visits NASA, A movie where we actually get a sense of how big space is and even see how long it takes to send a spaceship around our own solar system. And not just a high-concept low-budget movie, one with a proper budget, that can afford big names in leading roles such as; Jessica Chastain as a brilliant scientist, and Matt Damon stranded on a planet and… Hey! Get the fuck out of here Interstellar! I’m trying to review The Martian and… Oh dear.
OK so I’m being somewhat facetious comparing those two, while they may appear similar at first glance, they differ in two key ways. Firstly Interstellar tells the story of the human race in peril by focussing on the tumultuous bond between a father and his daughter, while The Martian reflects on humankind’s journey through the struggles and achievements of one man. The second way in which the two movies differ is that Interstellar left me feeling as if I’d eaten a greasy late-night kebab sober, while The Martian left me warm, fuzzy and hopeful.
Ok before I fawn all over the movie let me get one thing out of the way, it’s not for everybody. Yes it may have a large budget, a cast drawn from Hollywood’s A-list, and a trailer that features explosions and a bombastic score, but the next transformers this is not. Instead we get a nuanced and slow-paced movie that is ultimately about science and engineering. If sitting through over two hours of problem-solving sounds like your own personal hell, then it probably will be.
After watching Exodus: Gods and Kings, I was on the lookout for any of Scott’s bullshit. The first sign of a lazy metaphor or appeal to trope and I would spend the rest of the runtime mentally flaying the movie using mean spirited words known only to those who attended public school possessing both a penis and a girls first name. (You think I write under the name Lumpsky for fun???) But surprisingly Scott reigned himself in. When Mark Watney (Damon) first realises he is stranded on Mars, he doesn’t scream to the heavens like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes, nor weep that he has to get back to his family, instead he approaches problems logically like would be expected of a NASA astronaut. This allows for a more gradual reveal of Watney as a character, and the film is better for it.
Another smart decision from Scott was not to include an antagonist, or at least include a human antagonist. Characters may argue about the best course of action and work against each other, but ultimately they are each trying to solve a problem as they see it from their own perspective. And really, what type of moustache twirling villain could compete against an entire planet where every aspect is inhospitable to life in all of its forms?
The film’s release is timely for two reasons, firstly it opens the same week that flowing water is discovered on Mars (this renewed public attention to the red planet promptly led to several impromptu orgasms at 20th Century Fox’s marketing department) and secondly it arrives at that special time of year when all the films seem to be about people undergoing a personal journey. Let me be the one to officially declare Oscar-Bait season open. Sigh, yes The Martian is about mankind’s struggle against adversity and gives Matt Damon the opportunity to show he can act (he should at least get a nomination for leading actor if nothing else), but it’s the good type of Oscar-Bait, the kind that entertains and informs without waxing lyrical about complex social issues in preachy black and white manner. If we are insistent on having Oscar season movies, surely the love-letter to science has to beat the usual slew of Tom Hooperish films about oppressed people overcoming adversity, or whatever the fuck Michael Bay is doing making a movie about the 2012 Benghazi Attack.
I absolutely loathed Ridley Scott’s last movie, but with The Martian he returns to true form, and when he is on few directors can match him. Here he shows; One giant journey for a man, one small story of science.
Or somewhat less eloquently…