There is a theory doing the rounds that between the military and space programs, the US has so far spent billions of dollars attempting to rescue Matt Damon from precarious situations. “Interstellar”, “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Martian”, the newest film from director Ridley Scott.
Mark Watney (Damon) is part of a five man “Ares” astronaut crew exploring Mars. The team scoop up rock samples and anything else interesting, on the remote, barren and very red planet.
As a storm approaches, the team reluctantly prepare to leave. The retreat does not go according to plan and Watney ends up being left behind, presumed dead.
When he finally comes round, he realises he now comprises the total population of Mars, as lonely as a person could ever be.
The film follows Watney’s increasingly desperate efforts to survive. Despite understandably thought dead, NASA does eventually realise the Mars rover is not moving around by itself.
As a result, NASA frantically plans and re-plans a rescue mission, in the full glare of the world’s media spotlight. As obstacles present, they are overcome only to encounter ever more insurmountable hurdles. It’s not rocket science until unfortunately, it actually is.
Watney has limited food and resources, therefore his endurance, scientific skills and psychological resilience are all tested to the limit. As he so succinctly states, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this”.
The ground control crew are an eclectic group led by NASA director “Teddy Sanders” (Jeff Bridges) still in “Newsroom” manner of speaking and acting. Mitch Anderson (Sean Bean) portraying a rather unlikely mission director and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofer) doing the heavy lifting to let the audience know what is going on.
The crew meanwhile travel back towards Earth, blissfully unaware of Watney’s survival, albeit racked with guilt for leaving him behind. Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Pilot Martinez (Michael Pena), Techie Johanssen (Kate Mara), Flight surgeon Dr Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Chemist Vogel (Aksel Hennie) round out the crestfallen crew.
This is largely Damon’s film and he makes for a very likeable companion. The script uses the device of a regular log kept for posterity, due to a likely pessimistic outcome. This enables his inner thinking to be enjoyed by the audience. Whilst always an engaging actor, Damon excels in a role largely played by himself, unlike Tom Hanks in “Castaway” he does not even have “Wilson” (basketball friend) to talk to.
It is apparent the film-makers had significant help and support from both NASA and JPL. Opening almost the same week “water” was discovered on Mars in real life. This is clearly beneficial to all involved, however judiciously timed the announcement might have been.
Whilst the film can be clumsily labelled Sci-Fi, the themes are universal and any space pomposity is quickly punctured by the ever present humour and eclectic soundtrack. Arguably taking notes from the “Guardians of The Galaxy” rule book, where space is not all about classical music. We have disco “Hot Stuff” and Abba thrown into the mix as part of the story.
The film only falters briefly when the mawkishness of the “world is watching” clichéd shots of Times Square, Big Ben etc are wheeled out but these are minor quibbles overall.
Based on the 2012 popular book by Andy Weir
A hugely enjoyable and accessible film that mixes drama and humour, whilst amply demonstrating the human spirit, desire for human contact and the indomitable will to survive.
The film is likely to find a large audience, make sure you are one of them