The Martian (2015)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor
A Heavenly Masterpiece
by Mason Manuel
Beautiful. Now that’s a word I never thought I would use to describe the lifeless surface of Mars to be sure, but Director Ridley Scott moved to prove me wrong in his latest film starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain. Scott’s ability in space has not been demonstrated so well since Alien, doing so much with so little, using quick multi-camera strategies along with vast establishing shots to show just how alone yet alive protagonist Mark Watney is. The film is a spectacle in terms of both presentation and performance, showing humanity at its finest and most desperate and captures the humanization of characters flawlessly. The Martian blasts away my expectations with stunning special effects and heartfelt character moments and is easily on of Ridley Scott’s defining masterpieces.
Mark Watney (Damon) is a botanist sent by NASA to analyze various soil samples on Mars, with his fellow crew all having their own personal missions. One day or Sol as they are called in space, a massive storm hits the team causing them to immediately abort. On their way to extraction Watney is hit with debris and assumed dead on the surface of Mars, leaving his team no choice but to leave without him. Miraculously, Watney does not die but this in itself introduces a new problem. He has to find a way to stay alive for years… on Mars. Limited food and water supply, a habitat only designed to last for a few months, and the sheer fact that he is the only living being on the planet create immense hurdles that Watney has no choice but to solve, otherwise he’ll be dead in weeks. Not only that but back home NASA has to find a way to get to him in time. The following events that transpire show greatness of the human spirit while also showing its’ greatest fears.
Matt Damon pulls off the impressive feat of performing a nearly two-hour long one-man show on the desolate wasteland of Mars. He is completely isolated and save for a couple of disco CDs, some spread out go pros, and his upbeat attitude, it’s going to stay that way until NASA can get back to him. Damon shows immense depth here; joking with himself and the audio diary when things get rough here, showing silent moments of intense reflection when coming face to face the fact that he may in fact die there. His emotional swings are perfectly balanced and his character is instantly likable and relatable. The supporting cast feels just as real. The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels plays a hilariously dark director of NASA and despite his cold brevity he never feels overly cruel when he debates against spending millions of dollars to save one man on Mars. The remaining Mars crew are mostly made to actress in the confined area of their personal space station, The Hermes but make the most of it even with the limited surroundings. In fact the Hermes Station is where a great deal of the more practical special effects take place making the small moments with the remaining crew exciting ones. Though the 5 crew members are made of some heavy hitters like Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan, most focus is placed on Commander Lewis played by Jessica Chastain. Having made the deciding call to leave Watney on Mars, she is emotionally distraught but has to remain focused and on mission. Chastain’s steely stare and no bullsh*t attitude come off perfectly fitting for her character and makes the character a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the film’s third act when she is forced to make some more life or death calls.
These terrific performances emerged with some stunning practical effects make for an easily enjoyable film, but in the end this is DirectorRidley Scott’s crowning achievement. The casts that he is brought together perfectly off one another and the world he has built has as much of a persona as the characters do. His visually stunning shots are perfectly morphed with a simultaneously ambient and foreboding score by Harry Gregson-Williams as well as some strangely fitting disco music from yesteryear. When Watney does his video logs by talking to the various cameras set up around his habitat and equipment, what should feel like a disconcerting change of scenery comes off as completely natural with Scott behind the lens. With his expert camera work and excellent direction of talent on screen, Scott more than makes up for the disappointment I felt after Prometheus a few years back.
I raise a glass to the entire cast and crew on this production. Ridley Scott and space are very much a match made in the heavenly bodies and he shows it in a way almost no one else can. Through the roughly two and half hour run time, viewers will experience joy, sadness, hope, and desperation, sometimes simultaneously. The Martian is one of those films that only comes by once in a cinematic age and will be an overall joy for cinephiles and science fans alike. RDR gives The Martian a very well deserved 9.5 out of 10.