RIDLEY Scott returns to the realms of science-fiction with The Martian, a very mild improvement on previous works but nonetheless, an ultimately disappointing work that once again cements Scott as an unwelcome filmmaker in today’s film society.
During a mission to Mars by the spaceship Hermes, a sudden storm results in astronaut and botany specialist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) being hit by flying debris and ultimately declared lost and deceased by his crew who are forced to evacuate the Red Planet.
Unbeknownst to them, Watney is actually alive, yet stranded on a planet where he is the only living being. Watney all but accepts the likely scenario that he will die, long before he is rescued, which could be as long as three years.
But with his botany skills intact, Watney begins the process of keeping alive in spite of the odds against him, ranging from growing plants on a planet that doesn’t grow to finding methods to get into contact with NASA through satellite imagery.
Back on Earth, NASA discover Watney is still alive, yet the ideas as to how to rescue the stranded ‘martian’ differentiate, with one instance involving a probe designed to send supplies to Watney failing.
Eventually the divisive dilemma of whether the five astronauts travelling on Hermes should return to Mars to retrieve their comrade at their own risk becomes centre stage for NASA personnel, all as time presses for the increasingly-vulnerable Watney.
The problem with The Martian is that the film does not have the gripping power or the captivation that a film of this sort would be trying to achieve.
It is a good thing for sake of the plot that the film focuses not just on the plight of Watney but also gives time to the people down on Earth trying to get him.
Unfortunately, though Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Mackenzie Davis do their best as the NASA personnel, the script they’re given with makes for predictable reading. There are going to be failures, which we know, when they disagree, it is not in a memorable fashion and we know there is going to be some form of a compromise eventually.
Even scenes involving the highly talented Jessica Chastain as the mission commander living with the burden of leaving Watney do not play as wholly interesting, and the fellow crew members are written too thinly.
Damon plays Watney with a likable persona and one where you feel sympathy for him with his plight. The viewer wants him to get back to Earth but at the same time, there is almost a sense of inevitability as to where the film is going.
A scene towards the end where Watney breaks down is an unexpected scene and one of the better scenes because it shows his talent as an actor and for playing characters you root for.
The film makes an almost fatal flaw of attempting humour, such as one sequence where Watney tries to cheer himself up in his shelter by listening to disco music, found in a crew member’s bag.
Though it is designed to boost morale, it is horrifically corny and ultimately, unwanted in the film. At least a scene in which a frustrated Watney types an unseen but no doubt foul-mouthed public message to NASA when they reveal they haven’t told his crew members he is still alive is fairly enjoyable to see.
It is now getting to the point where when one notices a film that is made by Scott, the appeal diminishes when it becomes clear he is involved. Unlike fellow English-speaking directors who were making films in the 1970s (Scorsese, Malick, etc) and have continued to impress this decade, Scott can’t make really impressive films any more and with this adding to his reputation as a whole, the sooner he retires, the better.
Though there are weaker films from this year, The Martian fails to entertain in the ways that it should have done and adds theory as to whether it would have improved with a more consistent director like Robert Zemeckis at the helm. It more than likely would have done.