Ridley Scott’s previous journeys into outer space have been bold leaps of imagination paired with visual flair. The Martian, on the other hand, is a scientifically-grounded thriller set for the most part on a planet that’s got heaps of red rocks. Having more in common with Castaway than the horrors of Alien, it’s the nerve-wracking situation that Matt Damon’s smart-arse character Mark Watney finds himself in, stranded on the surface of Mars, that does the heavy lifting, rather than wonders of the cosmos or previously unseen terrors.
Scott’s in economical mode here, a more fitting match for Andy Weir’s novel (largely told in the first person in journal form), than the recent bombast of Exodus: Gods and Kings or Prometheus. Weir delved deeper into Watney’s scientific reasoning, but Scott still proves adept at bringing far more detail to proceedings than your average sci-fi pic. This is just one of the many ways he’s aided by Damon, whose monologues, liberally peppered with humour and a dashing of profanity, not only help his character cope with isolation and panic, but keep us invested in his circumstances.
Gravity is the obvious comparison, but The Martian is more predicament problem-solving than thrill-ride, and seeing Mars brought to life more an intellectual than visual spectacle compared to Bullock’s orbital adventure. Thankfully, The Martian does a much more successful job at conveying the invisible environmental threat of Mars’ atmosphere than the invisible environmental threat of Earth’s ecosystem seen in the admittedly-terrible The Happening.
A superior survival thriller, and one that doesn’t need to trade on a body count of real life victims, The Martian shows that true stories of endurance aren’t always better than fiction. That it does so in largely solo fashion, in a familiar-looking environment, makes it all the more impressive.
‘The Martian’ Movie Times (Also in 3D)
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