At the very end of the film, as the credits begin to roll, the words, “a film by Ridley Scott” pop up on screen and, for the first time in over a decade, you feel that actually means something. You genuinely feel that this is a film for a director to be proud of.
The Martian is adapted from the novel by Andy Weir, which tells the story of an astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who finds himself stranded on Mars when the Mission is forced to abort during a major storm. Believed to be dead, the rest of the crew blast off into space and begin their journey back to Earth. Finding himself alone and without enough supplies to last out until a rescue attempt could make it back to him, the Mark puts his scientific knowledge to the test in order to grow food, and repair equipment, in the hope he can survive.
The story was adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard, known for his work on films such as Cloverfield, World War Z, and Cabin In the Woods, as well as prominent work on a variety of TV shows. His touch is certainly present throughout with a witty style, and strong pacing of story, ensuring that even when the film gets heavy with the science, it doesn’t get bogged down in detail and instead keeps things clear and concise. Complementing the strong script is Ridley Scott’s direction alongside cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who worked on films such as Dark City, The Crown, and more recently Prometheus alongside Scott. The similarity in visual style between this and Prometheus are clear, and regardless of what you thought of that film it is hard to dispute that it looked stunning. With The Martian, vacant landscapes of rock and desert are given a striking beauty, whilst the shots of the Ares III as it carries the crew through space are simply stunning. Scott’s recent return to sci-fi has highlighted his strength for the genre, and helped put him back on the top of his game.
Cast wise, Damon does a great job, and is supported by a wealth of names, all delivering fine work. Jeff Daniels appears to still be in Newsroom mode, which isn’t a bad thing, as Teddy Sanders the head of NASA. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sean Bean lend some screen presence as two of NASA’s directors, and the crew of the Ares III sees names such as Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Michael Pena (who is finally getting the roles he really deserves this year) among others all delivering fine performances is what are essentially small parts. After all, in essence this is a one man show. The core story is about Matt Damon as Mark, and he delivers a solo performance that grips you, surprises you, amuses you, and thrills you in equal measure. With nobody else to play off, Damon talks to video logs as a means to interact, and holds it together perfectly, sometimes just offering a simple look in order to convey a lot more than words could deliver.
The Martian is a stand out film in what has generally been an average, and slightly underwhelming year. Had the year not kicked off with films such as Birdman and Whiplash, this would easily be my film of the year so far. As it stands, it sits in an extremely respectable third place, and is certainly one to experience on the big screen (although not particularly in 3D).