Written by guest contributor Dave Fox
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be counting down my top 5 films of 2015. Here’s #2, a redemptive sci-fi offering from director Ridley Scott.
After the recent missteps of Prometheus and Exodus: Gods & Kings, Ridley Scott reminded everyone why his name is so revered with The Martian. Based upon the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian has hard science to go with its fiction, a rarity these days.
The film stars Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist who is stranded on Mars when a mission goes awry. Presumed dead by his mission commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Watney is forced to use his intelligence and ingenuity to survive on the hostile dead planet while awaiting rescue by NASA.
This is the second sci-fi film in my top five of the year. Ex Machina is the other, and while it doesn't share that film's philosophical bent, The Martian similarly uses science as a foundation for its fiction thanks to the meticulously-researched novel that is its source. It takes its visual and narrative cues from recent crowd-pleasing space dramas like Gravity and Interstellar (the latter of which also features Damon as an astronaut stranded on a hostile planet) but perhaps its nearest cinematic brethren is Ducan Jones' Moon. While it isn't as quirky as Duncan Jones' effort, both of them feature a lone protagonist talking to himself for much of their runtime.
Not to say that The Martian is dull (nor is Moon, for that matter). Thankfully, Matt Damon is as charismatic a lead as they come, and he imbues Watney with enough intelligence, humour and pathos to hold our interest. He's also supported by an excellent cast that includes Jessica Chastian, Sean Bean, Chetiwel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig and a scene stealing Donald Glover.
The film also looks beautiful, even the dusty red vistas of Mars look awe-inspiring, which is more than you could say of previous Mars-set bore-fests like Mission To Mars, to give just one example of many. The success of The Martian suggests that the problems of Scott's other recent films may be down the script rather than anything else. With a brilliant screenplay from Drew Goddard (World War Z, Cabin In The Woods) and a troupe of actors at the top of their game, Scott proves that with the right tools he can craft an exciting cinematic experience.
As the joke goes, The US government is forever rescuing Matt Damon, but this may well with the best film of all of them in that odd, specific genre. A smart, at times funny, and overall hopeful journey, The Martian helps to prove that there's life in smart sci-fi, and Ridley Scott's career - and life on Mars, too.
The Martian Director: Ridley Scott Writer: Drew Goddard (adapted from Andy Weir's novel) Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 144 minutes Release Date: 10/02/15