Do you remember the feeling you had when you first saw Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi classic, Alien? I do. Do you remember the suspense? The terror? The anxiety? Do you remember the haunting visuals? The paranoia? The claustrophobia? The separation from human life? Just over three and a half decades later, Ridley Scott has made another sci-fi movie that's destined to be a classic. It's not quite as incredible, nor groundbreaking as Alien was, and is, but it's nearly as good, as that's quite the accomplishment for any filmmaker, let alone someone who's now in their 70s. After watching both this and Mad Max Fury Road, age is but a number when it comes to filmmaking.
Unlike Alien, in The Martian, there are no extraterrestrials to be found. There aren't any cats, either. There's a spaceship, though, so that's something. And there's some baby plants, too. Lots of baby plants. We open on Mars. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and his fellow crew mates, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), are nearing the end of their mission. But a storm soon approaches, one that could potentially threaten the mission. They're forced to evacuate the planet, but as they're doing so, Watney is hit by a large chunk of debris, seemingly killing him and hurtling him who-knows-where. The crew have no choice but to take off, leaving Watney's body behind. After the storm clears up, Watney wakes up, impaled and alone on the desolate planet. He's forced to used his botanist skills to survive on this lifeless planet for the next four years, which is when the next manned mission will arrive. But he must also find a way of contacting NASA's leader, Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), to let him know that he survived the incident and is in serious need of a rescue.
Ridley Scott has had a few hit and misses over the last decade or so. There's been films like Prometheus, which I personally adored although many would disagree, and then films like The Counsellor, which I still don't really understand. It's made people much more hesitant about a new film of his than we would've all been a few decades ago, had I been alive then. With The Martian, however, I think it's safe to say that Ridley Scott has returned to form, crafting together not just one of the best films he's made in a long, long, long time, but also one of the best films he's ever made. Period.
Despite tackling some very serious subject matter and the themes that go with it, eg. lonlieness, the will the survive etc., The Martian is a witty and often hilarious experience. It's full of optimism and humour, taking itself seriously, but having fun as well. It's not all gloominess and depression for two and half hours. Instead, it's got hope, heart, thrills and a groovy disco soundtrack featuring the likes of David Bowie and ABBA. Watney constantly makes fun of the music, but deep down, he's having fun with it, and so are we. It's similar to that of Guardians of the Galaxy, but not quite on the same level. It is, however, a slightly better film, despite having approximately zero talking trees.
The two and half hour runtime flies on by, thanks to Scott's sophisticated direction, edge of your seat thrills and colourful imagery. Bleak is not a word you'd ever hear associated with this movie as it's on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It's a fun and upbeat experience with Scott bringing the best out of the terrific script by Drew Goddard, the writer and director of 2012's The Cabin in the Woods, and the supposedly fantastic book by Andy Weir. I haven't read it, but after seeing the movie, I'm seriously considering doing so.
The central story on mars is easily the most entertaining aspect of this movie, but this film has a lot more going for it than just Matt Damon growing plants, accidentally setting himself on fire and making a bunch of video logs. That takes up most of the runtime, sure, but this film is also about the people of Earth and his crew mates, and it features a cast too big to list. We're constantly cutting back and forth between NASA's attempts to bring him home, and the reluctance of Jeff Daniels' character. He doesn't want to risk the lives of anyone else to save just one man. The rest of the world, including a pivotal character played by Sean Bean and a shockingly important character played by Donald Glover, disagrees. Just like Damon's story, there's never a dull moment here, either. Scott has made science fun, and unlike last year's Interstellar, the science actually makes sense in this movie.
The Martian isn't just investing, but it's also quite the visual spectacle. Scott's camera movement is without flaw, the way he moves the camera nothing less than beautiful. He mixes security footage with actual shots and there isn't one that doesn't work. It's not just the camera work that's sensational, either. The visual effects are beyond phenomenal, especially in the second half. There's not a great deal in terms of quantity, most of the film taking place indoors or in a desert landscape (although that's not me saying that those scenes are without visual effects), but the stuff that's there is phenomenal.
With a career as wide ranged and as brilliant as his, it comes as quite a surprise to say that with The Martian, Matt Damon gives one of the best performances he's ever given. His character is alone on mars with not much more to eat than potatoes and ketchup, and he's forced to survive here for quite some time. His performance is phenomenal, completely capturing you into this world. I found myself emotionally invested in his story, and when shit hits the fan, my jaw was dropped. His character is sarcastic and honest, and Damon gives an Oscar-worthy performance in what should end up being an Oscar-winning movie.
To sum up, The Martian is a sci-fi survival story that's neither bleak nor depressing. It's fun, optimistic, hilarious, a visual spectacle and full of edge of your seat thrills. It's one of the best films Scott and Damon have ever made, and that's saying something.