What can you say about Ridley Scott‘s work that hasn’t already solidified him as one of the more amazing and versatile filmmakers of our time? Well here’s some more praise – The Martian is easily one of the best movies you’ll see this year, and certainly one of the best of the last five. Scott’s adaptation (of the book of the same name) showcases a multitude of competent decisions and finesse that make The Martian a win in all categories as well as an entirely fun-filled cinematic experience.
On the surface level, the film might appear to be a drama, but with healthy injections of Matt Damon charm, this one-man show looks like a variety act as opposed to All Is Lost or Cast Away in space. Sure, as Astronaut Mark Watney, Damon is supported (in spirit) by an amazing cast, but because of his talent and likability, this fires on all cylinders and never lets off the gas. Using a video diary as a way of providing exposition, Damon’s Watney rages against the dying of the light and provides more laughs than any Scott film to date, but also, most films in 2015. Instead of being a melodramatic tale of isolation (credit Andy Weir for the story), Scott directs a multitude of comedic elements and is not afraid to allow Damon to throw jokes in the face of certain death. It takes what is a series of dire, and hopeless situations, and really tries the best to make light of it – sarcasm, humor, and science actually keep Watney going.
Moreover, Watney is a capable man who, even set against astronomical odds of failure, is willing and able to suck it up and science the $#!t out of everything so he can make it home again. On a macro level, the impetus for his efforts are explained in his own words; he’s doing what he loves and is prepared to die for something big, beautiful, and greater than himself.
Aside from acting and story, the hallmarks of a Ridley Scott picture are the visuals and music. The Martian is no different and features hi-tech and simply gorgeous production design by Scott regular Arthur Max, Pietro Scalia’s editing, and Harry Gregson-Williams’ nebulous score that changes about as often as Watney’s situation on Mars. It all contributes to a stunning, remarkable, and ultimately crowd-pleasing endeavor. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, you’ll have so much fun, you probably wouldn’t mind if it went on for another half hour.
Matt Damon’s delivery, and all the steps taken to get him rescued, keep this engaging, and maintain a certain level of levity for the entire runtime. The humor may be unexpected (unless you’ve read the book), but it’s as welcomed and delightful as the number of disco songs which Mark Watley vehemently detests. This is Damon’s picture – he takes this incredible production on his shoulders, calls his shot and knocks it not just out of the park, but into the stratosphere.
Rounding out the story is the myriad of A-list and character actors pitching in to make this narrative work. It’s extraordinary how many different personalities gel and share screen time with each other. Damon brings the audience in and while everything he’s doing is entirely complex and scientific, he (as do the crew of the Hermes which include Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Michael Pena) deals in layman’s terms. So too do his Earth-based team (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Benedict Wong, even Donald Glover) who walks a similar line between technical jargon and clever colloquialisms. It’s high concept stuff, but it remains surprisingly accessible.
One may notice that this doesn’t quite feel like a Ridley Scott picture as The Martian has such modern (read: younger) filmmaking sensibilities. Also it’s a real departure from the likes of Body of Lies, Gladiator, Alien and Blade Runner. Again, there’s humor, lots in fact, and aside from the jaw-dropping vistas, and slick production design, it’s a fresh, lively, well-paced and fun outing. The latter isn’t exactly a calling card for Scott, especially in his last five films, but Drew Goddard is on hand to help bring Andy Weir‘s book to the big screen in a vibrant and energetic way…and it works brilliantly. Ridley Scott is, once again, king of space. It is the finest film in his career, and the feel-good movie of the year.