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The Martian review
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In Space No-One Can Hear You .. At All

Going for a slow burn introduction before upping the action has been a technique used many times previously by Ridley Scott, but in The Martian he has chosen to hit the ground running by starting with the dramatic events which leave astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) stranded, and apparently without hope of survival or rescue on Mars.  The opening of the film was very effective in immersing the audience in the situation and will doubtless please those who have dismissed the slower pace of previous Scott movies as boring.  As the story progresses the pace does fluctuate between kinetic action set pieces and more thoughtful, leisurely sequences.  The change in mood between sequences is handled very well.

At first The Martian is very much a variant on the Robinson Crusoe story, as was the memorable Cast Away.  Thanks to its setting, however, The Martian offers an interesting spin on the story of a stranded survivor, with Watney having to create ingenious solutions to the challenges of the Martian environment.  He explains what he is doing on recordings made to video-cameras, a device which is somewhat clumsy, but does work well.  It is difficult to see how the story would have worked without resorting to this dramatic licence.  Similarly, everyone in this movie reads out the content of their emails rather than merely typing them.  The depiction of life in a hostile environment is compelling but does not go on for too long as the story switches to looking at the efforts everyone is making back on earth to rescue Watney, once he has successfully contacted Mission Control to inform them that he is still alive.

At this point the film is very much in the territory of Apollo 13, as several rescue plans are examined and then ultimately improvised upon by the boffins at Nasa, Watney and his fellow astronauts.  It does become a little too feelgood at times, with the odd cheesy moment.  There is a nice sense of lightness of touch generally but occasionally this was a film which went too much for corniness.  I liked the fact that Watney was stuck with recordings consisting of disco records, a genre he hated, but it would have been enough for one to appear on the soundtrack once rather than several times.  Using David Bowie's Starman was a little too obvious as well.  Tonally, this resembles a Tony Scott movie rather than a Ridley one at times.

I was impressed by the ensemble cast.  Damon does especially well in the lead role, with the right mixture of stoicism, anxiety, intelligence and humour.  He was ably supported by the likes of Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Jessica Chastain.  The film never loses sight of the human aspects of the story and balanced this well with moments of scientific exposition.  I would have liked a few more references to Watney's relationships with his fellow astronauts, as this was somewhat sketchily drawn in the script.

Overall the Martian was a very enjoyable movie.  It looked spectacular (unsurprising for a Scott feature), was well paced, and makes for a compelling emotional journey you will be glad to have embarked upon.  I would have liked to seen the impact psychologically of the astronaut's isolation explored in greater depth but was otherwise rather impressed by the quality of the script.  With only minor flaws, The Martian is definitely worth your time.

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3 years ago on 6 October 2015 17:34