Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN is a genuine crowd-pleaser that relies as equally on stunning visuals as it does on the charms of its cast, particularly Matt Damon.




THE MARTIAN follows Damon’s Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars as a result of a freak accident. The rest of his team evacuated the Red Planet, assuming him dead. What follows are three intersecting stories: Watney’s attempt to survive 141 million miles away from Earth, his bosses at NASA in a race against time to concoct a plan to bring him home, and the mission that his fellow astronauts­ — including Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña — embark upon to bring Watney home.




While two and a half hours long, THE MARTIAN breezes by with the streamlined style of GRAVITY and it never comes off as bloated or as self-indulgent as last year’s INTERSTELLAR. THE MARTIAN blends humor, brains, and intensity immaculately.  For all of the special-effects spectacle, Ridley Scott — known primarily for being a cold technician — has perhaps made one of his most human films since 1991’s THELMA & LOUISE. Much of that is due to Drew Goddard’s tight script that infuses the (for the most part) accurate science of Andy Weir’s novel with a sharp, quick, sense of humor that is reminiscent of Billy Wilder, particularly in the scenes taking place in the offices of NASA. The entire ground crew — including Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig — play off each other nicely and bring the right mixture of gravity and humor to the proceedings.




The costume and set design recall Scott’s original ALIEN at points, as well as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, melding ‘60s neo-futurism with a more realistic, used universe. The Mars design is also something to note, as it never feels busy, or overdone. In fact, the Mars of THE MARTIAN is more reminiscent of the Old West, with Matt Damon’s Mars rover filling in for the covered wagons of the past.




Matt Damon is stellar, especially since for most of the film’s running time, he doesn’t have any other actors to play off of. His Mark Watney is stranded on Mars for most of the film, but Damon brings an instant likability to the botanist fighting for his life, stranded so far away from home. He has a nuanced skill, shifting from smart-alecky know-it-all to a desperate man in despair who fears he may never get back to Earth.




The film is a big ol’ love letter to science and the space program — not much Hollywood fare would feature a botanist as the hero — as much as it is a commentary on the potential of the human race. While never overtly preachy, the film shows how the story of one human being can bring the human race together, and it impresses upon the audience that it is only through learning and evolving that people will become better. THE MARTIAN wants audiences to believe that than can happen for real. In that way, THE MARTIAN really is a feel-good movie, and in an age of irony, it’s refreshing.







Mike Vanderbilt
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