When I was a 10-year old kid my favourite TV programme was Gerry Anderson’s U.F.O. and my favourite EVER episode of that was one called “Survival”. In it, Colonel Paul Foster (the late Michael ‘nearly Bond’ Billington) was stranded believed dead on the moon a hundred miles from Moonbase with diminishing oxygen supplies and with the deadly threat of a similarly stranded alien to also deal with. To say it fired my youthful imagination would be an understatement. With Ridley Scott’s new film “The Martian” we have an almost identical plot, albeit without the alien involvement.
Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who after a freak Martian storm is left for dead by his colleagues in the NASA crew of the “Hermes” (led by the excellent Jessica Chastain). By “sciencing the shit out of this” he struggles to survive in the airless and inhospitable landscape. By chance, his presence is detected by NASA and the action switches to the NASA team – principally NASA Director Jeff Daniels, Mars mission director Chiwetel Ejiofor, PR lady Kirsten Wiig, JPL specialist Benedict Wong and “Hermes” flight director Sean Bean – and their struggle to save him given the logistical impossibilities involved.
I loved this film. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say this is my film of the year so far. Matt Damon – never ‘Mr Charisma’ in most films – is spectacular here, delivering his video logs (which – particularly in 3D – works better than Tom Hanks talking to footballs in “Castaway”) with a wit and charm that is quite endearing. The supporting cast all bring home the bacon with strong performances, with Ejiofor positively twinkling in the role. The rest of the “Hermes” crew, especially Michael Peña and the cute Kate Mara, are also excellent.
The screenplay by Drew Goddard (“Lost”, “World War Z”) and based on the bestselling book by Andy Weir generally works well. A few of the lines, my wife noted, smelled a bit of cheese (some of those from Sean Bean in particular), and there is a largely underdeveloped Chinese side-story (presumably to woo a Chinese audience), but overall the mood of the film carries the script triumphantly forward. (There’s a nice nod and a wink to Bean’s involvement in Lord of the Rings as well, which made me chuckle).
The film also looks marvelous, with the Mars sets and special effects being spectacular, the Mars spacecraft being beautifully realized, and some very impressive long-duration zero-gravity scenes aboard the “Hermes” that boggle the mind.
In retrospect, the film’s success might be deemed to be assured given it is an amalgam of some notable film classics of recent times: the spectacle of “Interstellar”; the intrigue of “Moon”; the vacuum-based-perils of “Gravity”; the hopelessness of “Castaway” and the ‘world holds its breath’ tension of “Apollo 13”. But after the blockbuster food-mixer stops whirring, the whole thing gels beautifully and despite its fairly long running time (141 minutes) boredom is never close and you leave the theatre buzzing. A key factor in maintaining the tension for the running time is that this is a Ridley Scott film: whilst other directors might insist on a ‘Hollywood’ ending, with Scott at the helm you can never be sure which way the story might twist in the final reel. And you won’t find any spoilers for that here.
Unlike last year’s “Gravity”, and the no-doubt accurate but mind-boggling “Interstellar”, the science all holds up pretty well (although I did have serious reservations about the robustness of polythene sheeting and duct-tape replacing a door at one point).
Harry Gregson-Willams’ score apes Jerry Goldsmith’s “Alien” a bit in places, but works well and is massively and joyfully supported by a wide range of disco classics, neatly incorporated into the plot.
Go see this film, ideally at the cinema and in 3D: I doubt you will be disappointed. Heaven knows, I don’t give away 5 Fads very often, but in this case….
Fad Rating: FFFFF.