The ultimate survivor movie, The Martian manages to be an entertaining spectacle without too much gloomy introspection one would expect if stranded alone on Mars.
Films about space – and sci-fi in general – can tend to reply too much on suspension of belief and an in-depth knowledge of scientific terms. However the most recent sci-fi films that I’ve watched, The Martian and Ex Machina, set their action in a world that is more advanced scientifically than our own, but not so much that it becomes an unrecognisable, futuristic space. It’s that ‘almost reality’ that lends itself to the plot of the story: time is not wasted by establishing the rules of the world, or even how travelling to Mars is now common place.
Matt Damon as Mark Watney, astronaut and botanist extraordinaire, manages to keep the balance of drama with the more light-hearted moments, which stops the film from getting too melodramatic. The addition of his soliloquies to the cameras around the HAB also help with the narrative, as he explains his actions to the audience in a way that doesn’t seem forced.
One of the most striking elements of the film is the contrast between the scenes on Earth and Mars. Scenes based on Earth are hectic and seem to have a pervading greyness, lit solely by artificial lighting and the glow from computer screens. Mars meanwhile is a harsh, beautiful orange landscape, with the human action seemingly constantly dwarfed by the surroundings.
It does tend to fall back on several tropes towards the end: the eccentric scientist Rich Purnell, and the authoritarian Teddy Sanders, but the ensemble cast – all trying to come at the same problem in different ways, and clashing – manage to keep the film rooted firmly in humanity.
Overall, 4/5 stars.