The Culture Column: The Martian (8/10)

Cast 33.5 million miles further Away than Tom Hanks, Matt Damon takes on Mars.

Famed director Ridley Scott’s manned mission to Mars ends in disaster when astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is swallowed by a devastating sand-storm that forces the evacuation of the rest of his crew. Presumed dead, with not nearly enough supplies to survive, Watney faces impossible odds. Using cunning, strong spirit, and his “botany powers”, Wantey signals home and (in a sort of spacey Bear Grylls style) plants potatoes in his own sh*t. And so commences battle with a true goliath of enemies… Mars.

Let’s be clear from the off. This isn’t sci-fi. There are no little green men, or even the ghoulish drooling Aliens that Ridley Scott is synonymous with. This is about man, and one man in particular.

Mark Watney’s story is set in an undisclosed point in the not so distant future (I saw an iPhone or two), inside the boundaries of reasonable feasibility. The technology is, for want of a better term, grounded, yet the art direction is gorgeous- white, with flashes of orange and bronze. You can be almost certain that if man were to head to Mars anytime soon, then this is what it would look like. Everything is believable and well explained in a show don’t tell type fashion.

As Watney works his nerdy magic (to the clever clash of 70s floor-fillers), the Apple-like ‘have to touch it qualities of fictional NASA tech blend seamlessly with duct-tape clad DIY solutions in a nod to Apollo 13, making Watney’s predicament surprising relatable- no mean feat for a film set in space. Even beloved Scientist Professor Brian Cox tweeted “The Martian is the greatest advertisement for a career in engineering” that he’s ever seen.

As a character, Watney is almost the exact antithesis of Matt Damon’s Dr Mann in Interstellar, who also finds himself alone on a hostile planet. As the puppy dog of the crew, there’s nothing to dislike about Mark Watney. Damon expertly creates a real-bloke personality of infectious determination, good humour, and astounding bravery… oh and a hatred of disco.

Endearing might just be the best adjective here, which is somewhat surprising given his complete absence of back story.

Damons co-star, Mars, is jaw dropping. The vast desert glows a hundred shades of brown and orange and gives whispers of alluring mystery to the viewer (however, this fascination was inevitable, given a PR mans wet-dream of real life Martian news). Which is why the direction of the second half of the film is just a little disappointing. Too much time on Earth, with too many characters.

Here, Earthlings feverishly scurry about in labs and offices, engaging in battles of science and politics to save both their astronaut and their own skins. Eventually this results in a consequence free mutiny by the remaining crew, who force the hand of their bosses back on Earth and head back for their crew mate.

Despite these minor pacing issues, and a seemingly pointless (and powerless) NASA HQ, The Martian truly impresses. Scott gives us his best work in years, and proves space doesnt need Aliens. All it needs is Matt Damon, who proves to be one of the best actors on the planet- this planet that is.