“If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab beaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen. I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.”
Looking at Ridley Scott’s filmography, he’s made over 20 features films since the late 70s. Of those, I have seen 11. Of those 11, I love Matchstick Men and Black Hawk Down, I kind of like American Gangster and Alien, and I really dislike Blade Runner, The Counselor and Gladiator. The rest are just kind of blurs. Not good enough to remember, not bad enough to hate. All of that is to say, I had zero interest in seeing his latest, The Martian.
Big budget, spectacle movies need a pedigree of actors, writers or director behind them before I get excited. I like Matt Damon, but I already saw him do stranded in space with last year’s Interstellar, so his involvement didn’t really get make jazzed. But, the good reviews for The Martian just on kept coming. And in a year that has so far been pretty thin with really good movies, I was starved enough for good, new release movies, that I took a chance on a director I don’t really like, working in a genre I don’t really like, and I saw The Martian.
In the not so distant future, a group of astronauts have been living on Mars. When a severe storm is headed their way, they decide it’s time to leave. The storm hits right before they make it to their ship and, as they battle the elements, mission botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is struck by debris and presumably killed. The rest of the crew, including Jessica Chastain as mission commander Melissa Lewis, Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen and Michael Pena as Rick Martinez, reluctantly leave the planet and begin their months long journey back to earth.
Only, Mark wasn’t killed in the storm, and he wakes up alone on Mars the next day, complete with a stab wound in his stomach. But as his self treatment of the wound shows, Mark is pretty smart and pretty resourceful. Calculating that it would take about four years for a rescue mission to reach him, the plucky botanist figures out how to create water and grow food on the desolate planet. While on earth, NASA, headed by Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders, tries to figure out how to spin the news of Mark’s death in a way that won’t mean the end of their Mars program. When they discover that Mark survived, Vincent Kappor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig) and Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) all contribute their own expertise to help bring Mark home.
A fare whack of The Martian is Mark Watney alone, addressing the camera directly, as he leaves video journals chronicling his time and survival methods as the only man on Mars. So much time is dedicated to this, that if these sections didn’t work, the entire movie would crumble around them. Luckily, Matt Damon is one charming son of a bitch. He makes sure the Mark Watney character is likeable, but he also brings enough of the not quite so great characteristics to make him believable as well. There are times when he’s a little smarmy and cocky, and it’s always juts enough to make him a little more human.
The Martian can be added to the very short list of Ridley Scott movies I love, but I don’t know how much of the credit the director deserves for that. He had a great story to work with and the perfect actor in the lead role. Assuming he didn’t personally build the sets, rig the lighting and edit the final cut, I’m pretty sure any director with this story, cast and crew, could have made a great movie with The Martian.