The Martian review: Despite being a fanatsy, this Ridley Scott film doesn't feel fictional for a moment

Deepanjana Pal

Oct 02, 2015 09:58:46 IST

"I'm going to science the sh*t out of this planet." That's abandoned astronaut Mark Watney's battle cry when his Nasa crew leaves him behind on Mars. It could also have been director Ridley Scott's call to arms when he made The Martian.

On the face of it, two hours and 20 minutes of Matt Damon stranded on a lifeless planet, growing potatoes, does not sound like the most riveting of experiences. But this is Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott, supported by Nasa and praise science, the film is a joy to behold.

 The Martian review: Despite being a fanatsy, this Ridley Scott film doesnt feel fictional for a moment

The Martian.

Within the first 10 minutes, Mark (Damon) is lying in a heap on Mars while his heartbroken crew, led by disco-loving Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), is whooshing its way through space because they think Mark is dead. Days later, Nasa's Mission Control realises Mark is alive. Over the course of approximately two hours, Nasa works furiously to figure out how to help Mark and Commander Lewis plans a daring (and unauthorised) rescue mission while Mark turns the beat around and proves he's hot stuff. But of course every time something works, something else falls apart spectacularly.

Cleverly plotted by scriptwriter Drew Goddard and masterfully directed by Scott, The Martian doesn't drag or feel monotonous for even a minute. Shot mostly in Jordan, the red desert is transformed meticulously and beautifully into a Martian landscape. Its emptiness -- particularly for those of us who live in crowded countries and metropolises — is breathtaking and unnerving. The Martian may be the most intelligent blending of filmed footage and computer generated imagery since Mad Max: Fury Road.

Scott's last film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, had all the ingredients required to make a taut, action drama, but Scott struggled mightily with Moses and his story. This time, the plot isn't really eventful or dramatic and the film could very easily have plateaued in the stretches between explosions (a lot of things blow up in The Martian). But Goddard's script is tight and Scott maintains an even pace and steady tension throughout the film. Ergo, you're never bored.

The cast of The Martian is brilliant and particularly gifted at comedy. Damon is perfect as the cocky and brilliant Watney, who holds on to his good cheer with a desperate determination as time wears on. He gets most of the screen time and makes every second count. Watching him sitting around in Mars, listening to disco and talking to himself, you might just find yourself wishing the rescue mission gets delayed because it would mean some more time alone with Mark.

No one else in the cast has much to do, but we see actors like Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Kirsten Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor sparkle in roles that are often singularly minor. This means there is not a throwaway line or punchline that doesn't hit the mark. Scott gives each one of his actors at least one moment to own the screen, and they deliver. Net result: a film that doesn't feel fictional for a second even though it is pure fantasy.

Incidentally, Irrfan was supposed to play Ejiofor's character, but he picked Rana in Piku over Venkat Kapoor in The Martian. So Venkat was renamed Vincent and instead of embodying Jawaharlal Nehru's 'Unity in Diversity' motto by uniting north and south India in one person, Kapoor got inhabited by Ejiofor as a Nasa official who is half Hindu, half Baptist and fully gorgeous. Hallelujah!

As much as The Martian is a story about survival and a rescue mission, it's also a salute to Nasa and the sense of kinship that science inspires. Barring Mark, no one is perfect in The Martian. Everyone has limitations and anxieties. But ultimately, everyone works together, for science and for humanity. America takes help from China -- Chairman Mao's ghost must be beaming from ear to ear -- and within Nasa, there are men and women of all shapes, sizes and colours, putting aside ego and frailty to make sure one of their own doesn't die on Mars. It's all unexpectedly heartwarming.

The Martian is also strengthened by the fact that Goddard is a gifted dialogue writer. Thanks to him, the film is as funny as it is tense. Not only are there many hilarious one-liners, Goddard has also snuck in some fantastic moments, like the one with Sean Bean, whose performance as Boromir at the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring spawned the "One does not simply" meme, in a top-secret meeting in Nasa. This council has gathered to discuss something called Project Elrond.

One does not simply walk into Mars, did you say? Ne'er was there a truer sentence said. Watch The Martian to find out how science colonises Mars (or at least tries to).

Updated Date: Oct 02, 2015 09:58:54 IST