Friday, September 18, 2015

THE MARTIAN Review: Ridley Scott Returns to Space

Ridley Scott Returns to Space

Ridley Scott's first commercial hit, coming after little-seen The Duellists, was 1979's Alien. Since then Scott has become a master of big-budget filmmaking, from the futuristic noir of Blade Runner to the sand-and-sandal epics Gladiator and Exodus, a modern war movie (Blackhawk Down) and even American Gangster. With Prometheus and now The Martian, Scott has returned to outer space. Based upon Andy Weir's self-published bestseller of a marooned astronaut, The Martian is the most thrilling movie of space survival since Gravity.

Weir's novel is notable for attention to technical details. Drew Goddards screenplay includes the science but emphasizes the human, cutting between Matt Damon's one-man show on Mars to his crew mates in space and at NASA trying to get him back. The fine cast includes Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ijiofor, Sebastián Stan, Mackenzie Davis, Sean Bean, Kate Mara and Michael Pena. The actors bring the technical jobs of NASA employees to life.

Movies about NASA and the real future in space are back. For three Autumns in a row we have been treated to Gravity, Interstellar and now The Martian. In all these movies NASA personnel are portrayed as heroes. The NASA of this latest film is portrayed as being bound by bureaucratic inertia, personified by Jeff Daniels, but the agency breaks all bounds to rescue Watney. When NASA's first attempt to resupply Watney fails, help comes from the Chinese space agency, much like the Soviet cosmonaut in Marooned.

The opening and closing scenes of Prometheus showed us some of the grandeur of outer space, trying consciously to approach Kubrick's 2001. Watney's solo traverses across the Martian surface show is ,ore of what it might be like walking where truly No One Has Gone Before. We also get a hint of the terror of space. Watney's removal of a foreign object is reminiscent of Noomi Rapace's harrowing self-surgery scene in Prometheus, which was itself an attempt to match the infamous "chest-buster" scene of Alien.

Scott is already deep in preparation for a sequel to Prometheus, so we can expect more journeys into space soon. The Martian leaves us wanting more. By showing the adventure of humans traveling regularly to Mars, this movie makes us all want to go, now.

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