Ridley Scott returns to form with The Martian

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Matt Damon stuck on Mars in The Martian.

James Mason, staff writer/editor/critic

People have been comparing The Martian to Cast Away on Mars. While this isn’t necessarily a bad comparison, but I think it would be better to say it was more Gilligan’s Island on Mars. It’s a weird statement, yes, but give me a second to explain why. It’s because of Matt Damon’s outstanding performance as Mark Watney, and how he refuses to let his circumstances let him down.

What’s his circumstance? Watney was left behind by his team on Mars, after a freak storm hit and caused them to have to make a quick evacuation (on the Ares III). His team knew he was still on the planet, but he was hit by loose debris and assumed dead. So now he’s stuck on Mars until someone comes to rescue him. Which may be a while, since it can take up to four years to reach Mars from Earth, and he has no contact with Earth, his space crew, or really anyone for that matter, so no one knows he’s alive. It’s also a barren planet, so getting food and not starving to death is a bit of an issue.

So yeah, he sort of has every right to be frustrated and angry. But what’s amazing is his attitude towards everything that’s going on. Watney is possibly the most optimistic person they could have possibly left on Mars. He treats every mistake and setback like it’s no big deal. “So, I blew myself up” is his reaction after failing to make water. Even in the face of death, he still manages to keep a sense of humor. His refusal to give up is unwavering

But Damon is far from the only person in the film. Eventually, he figures out a way to contact NASA, which obviously comes as a bit of a shock to them. Now there’s a mad dash to find a way to get him home alive and as quick as possible.

For a wide release movie, there’s an unusually large cast and complex plot. Well, the plot itself isn’t complex, but the fact that there’s about 3 or 4 going on at the same time makes it complex. It’s tricky task to pull off that much going on without it feeling convoluted.

Fortunately, Ridley Scott is more than up for the task, pulling it off smoothly and flawlessly. It’s his best movie in a long time, and a welcome return to form. Sci-fi is well worn territory for him (see Alien and Blade Runner for proof), so maybe that’s why he navigates through all of this like a pro. NASA trying to manage a voyage back to Mars (which involves a LOT of red tape, paperwork and funding), the Ares III crew debating what they can do, and Matt Damon still stuck on Mars. Scott balances them all, keeping each one moving forward and having the tension build more and more. The last 25 minutes are as tense as a movie ending can be.

Yet even through all the building tension, Scott still has time to develop each character. And believe me, there are a lot of characters, with an impressive ensemble. Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and Donald Glover all deliver fine performances in what will probably be the ensemble of the year.

In the same way The Martian will be remembered as one of the best movies of the year. Like Jaws, The Mastian manages to accomplish the rare feat of transcending the genre it’s in. Even for the non sci-fi people out there, the tense plot, Ridley Scott’s direction, and the sheer likability of Matt Damon’s performance make it hard to resist.

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