The Martian (2015): Ridley Scott's cerebral space adventure with a nice mix of science and entertainment

A testament to the indomitable spirit of man

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

The Martian, movie poster, Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon
The Martian - By Ridley Scott
Our Rating: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.5
Genre: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
CastMatt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 141 min
Color: Color

Summary: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
The Martian is a 2015 American Sci-Fi film directed by the celebrated English filmmaker Ridley Scott. Based on a 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian is adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard—the director of the 2012 horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods. The Martian presents the epic tale of survival of a NASA astronaut, Mark Watney, who is presumed dead after a violent storm and left behind by his crew members on the planet Mars. The movie’s stellar cast, with Matt Damon in the lead, features the likes of Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan, and Mackenzie Davis.

Matt Damon as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian
Matt Damon as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian
Andy Weir’s The Martian can be seen as a continuation of the long tradition of epic storytelling adventures as reflected in the sprawling sagas of tale tellers like Homer, Dumas, Verne, Twain, Kipling, and Conrad. It is a common notion that any tale of adventure is as good as its hero. At first sight, Astronaut Mark Watney comes across as a regular guy (Damon is perfectly cast). Yes, he is a NASA astronaut sent to Mars as part of the Ares III manned mission but that’s that, until the mission goes awry and we get to see the geek, hitherto hiding behind his guy-next-door façade. We soon learn that Watney is a highly skilled mechanical engineer as well as a botanist. But, that’s barely enough for survival on a planet that’s not supposed to support life in the first place! If there’s one instinct that’s absolutely necessary for survival, it is composure; and Watney is as cool as ice. Add to that his steely grit and a particularly jovial disposition. Voila, we have a perfect hero in the making!

Mark Watney with the crew of Ares III
Mark Watney with the crew of Ares III
What happens to Watney in The Martian may appear quite analogous to the doomed fate of castaways. In fact, Watney’s survival instincts remind one of the protagonist (brilliantly essayed by Tom Hanks), who survives a crash landing on a deserted island, in Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away. It’s a great coincidence that The Martian is currently locking horns at the box-office with Zemeckis’ latest offering, The Walk. Andy Weir's The Martian is essentially a testament to the indomitable spirit of man, perhaps a Robinson Crusoe that takes place on Mars or a paean to the two undisputed masterworks of American literature, Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Earnest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA Engineer Vincent Kapoor
Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA Engineer Vincent Kapoor
The Martian is a grueling account of a man’s struggle for survival in a hostile environment, and, while it may now sound like a joke to some, Weir actually had to struggle a lot to get his book published.  He began writing the book in 2009 and studied orbital mechanics, astronomy as well as the history of manned spaceflight as part of his research. When he didn’t find much luck with the publishers, Weir decided to put the book online in serial format, one chapter at a time, for free. It was only later that, at the request of his fans, he released an Amazon Kindle edition that went on to sell 35,000 copies in three months and that’s how The Martian eventually caught the attention of publishers. Weir sold the print rights to Crown in March 2013 for over a hundred thousand dollars.

Jessica Chastain as mission commander Melissa Lewis
Jessica Chastain as mission commander Melissa Lewis
Touted as one of the most anticipated releases of the year, The Martian seems to have got a major box-office boost by the recent NASA findings that confirm the existence of liquid water on the Red Planet. In the movie, however, Astronaut Watney is shown producing water, through a chemical reaction using Hydrazine, to grow potatoes. Ridley Scott and team give us a perfect Sci-Fi adventure that touches us both viscerally and intellectually. The movie’s scientific accuracy (there are some minor inconsistencies, of course) can be attributed to the presence of James L. Green, the director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA, as an adviser. As far as Hollywood is concerned, space travel has become a recurring motif in recent years. While it was Christopher Nolan’ Interstellar last year, it was Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity the year before. The Martian is certainly superior to Gravity in that it talks about more than just the perils of space travel, but it fails to match the metaphysical depth of Interstellar.

Matt Damon after the accident, Ridley Scott's The Martian
A Still from Ridley Scott's The Martian
Overall, The Martian proves to be a cerebral movie viewing experience, offering a nice mix of scientific knowledge and entertainment. The movie marks Ridley Scott’s return to his most favorite genre, after a gap of three years, following Prometheus. The Martian couldn’t have come at a better time for Scott, given the poor show of his previous two films, Exodus and The Counselor. Matt Damon too deserves our praise for bringing the movie to life with his soulful performance (an Oscar nomination seems to be on the cards). He is well supported by the rest of the cast. While both Chastain and Ejiofor are solid as ever, Sean Bean makes his presence felt in the short screen time he gets (there is also a cute little reference to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). It really hurts to see someone as talented as Bean getting underutilized. Alas, it’s a norm with Hollywood to waste talent! The Martian entertains us at different levels but not at the cost of science. While it may not deal with complex scientific concepts like relativity, space-time continuum, black holes, time dilation, worm holes, or time travel, it nonetheless succeeds in stimulating our curiosity for space travel. Traveling to Mars no longer feels like a dream. If it can be shown on a cinematic screen, it can also be done for real. An idea, as they say, is the most resilient parasite. A must watch!

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your insightful comments are highly appreciated!

Note: A version of this review was re-published in the Huffington Post.


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