Title: The Martian
Language: English, Mandarin
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi, Drama
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: Drew Goddard
based on Andy Weir’s book
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski
Shu Chen 陈数
Eddy Ko 高雄
A 3D-screening of the Sci-Fi picture of the year, after GRAVITY (2013), INTERSTELLAR (2014), the momentum of the hard science fiction sub-genre is going pretty strong, and for director Ridley Scott, whose career is badly in need of a revival, THE MARTIAN proves to be a timely global hit to his succour, a return to his most competent genre, and brings him out of his career nadir after THE COUNSELOR (2013) and EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014).
As its movie posters plainly assert, the film is about to bring Matt Damon’s botanist Mark Watney back to earth after being left alone on Mars by his crew, since they presume he is dead during an unexpected storm during their mission. Based on Andy Weir’s scientifically specific source novel and with the official support of NASA, the film adopts a more down-to-earth method to tell the story as realistic as possible, at least meets the basic criterion of today’s scientific level.
There are two parallel storylines at first, one is on Mars, concerning, the only man (might not be the only living creature thanks to the recent discovery of water) on a foreign planet, completely alone and how he strives to survive, fortunately he can avail himself of his professional know-how to successfully cultivate potatoes on the Mars’ soil (which might not be realistic, then again, no one has ever been to the Mars, so everything can be ascribed to the imagination license) and produce water. Meanwhile, he is seeking a way to contact NASA, to let the earthlings know he is stranded, in hope of a rescue mission. And beyond our imagination, he manages to do that too, through the defunct Pathfinder, the roving probe launched on Mars in 1996. On earth, the narrative is centred on Teddy (Daniels), the Director of NASA, Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), the director of Mars mission, once they realise Mark’s quandary, how they creatively sustain the communication with him and collect their wits to a rescue plan.
But odds are not in favour of Mark, after a failing launch of a space probe aiming to resupply him for sustain until the next mission, and an airlock disaster destroys all his plants, a third party enters the picture, as the only hope is hinged on Hermes, the spacecraft on its way back from Mars to Earth with Matt’s fellow astronauts, lead by captain Lewis (Chastain, a female captain!!), Hermes must extend its mission by another year in space, and firstly it must receive a booster proffered by CNSA (China National Space Administration) on the earth orbit, to resupply the Hermes, so they can return to Mars and get Mark back, and But if you expect some discord among its crew members, you will be disappointed, they are as united as ever, to risk their own life for the risky expedition. This is the final attempt, which unfortunately evolves into a public stunt not just for NASA, for America, but for the whole human race, to affirm that every one and single life counts, as in reality, we know it is not the truth.
The film doesn’t flaunt its visual grandeur, on the contrary, everything seems subdued for its accuracy, or at least verisimilitude, only the final rescue paragraph, propels us for an adrenalin drive like a less compelling re-take of Sandra Bullock’s space yank-and-tossing with George Clooney in GRAVITY, but to an uplifting upshot.
Matt Damon delivers a substantially absorbing one-man-show, generates optimism and gives wisecracks through a series of video logs, not an Oscar-bait performance but if he can get a filler nomination for INVICTUS (2009), it means nothing is impossible for him. Considering Mark’s situation, facing his despair and loneliness in a lone planet, the most probable denouement is dying there alone, 220,000,000 km from home, his mental journey is short-changed nevertheless, since the film contends to be a satisfactory tale of a man-made wonder, it is understandable they try to whitewash the sombre facet of the ordeal. All the supporting roles are portrayed level-headedly through their professions other than 3-dimensional characters, a guilt-driven Chastain could have been a potential scene-stealer, but that never gonna happen and her crew is too harmonious to allow the captain to risk any emotional turbulence.
Fairly speaking, THE MARTIAN is less visually-innovate than GRAVITY and less theoretically-sophisticated than INTERSTELLAR, but for a Ridley Scott’s vehicle, it hearteningly reaffirms us that sitting at the age of 78, he is not ready for retirement yet. The film is extremely audience-friendly, roundly constructed, and most admirably, with no calculation to cater to audience’s rapacious appetite of hollow special effects.