by Alan Yudman
After PROMETHEUS it looked liked Ridley Scott had jumped the shark or simply had forgotten how to make a good movie. Scott has found his mojo again with THE MARTIAN. Matt Damon is an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars when the crew is forced to evacuate the planet because of a huge storm. Everyone thinks he’s dead. But he managed to survive and now it’s a battle to stay alive until help can arrive. NASA doesn’t even know he’s there at first. But they finally realize they left a man behind and then the race is on to figure out how to help him survive until another manned mission or a supply ship can make it to Mars. We know Damon’s Mark Watney is from Chicago and his parents are still alive. That’s all we really need to know. His backstory is not important to this story. Watney is a botanist who has to figure out how to make his food, water and air last for more than a year. As he says at one point, he “sciences the shit out of it”. Meantime back on earth, NASA headed by Jeff Daniels and Chewetel Ejiofor are pushing the Jet Propulsion Lab to build a supply ship. The supporting cast of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong and more are all wonderful. THE MARTIAN doesn’t get too deep into science or nerd speak. It hits all the right notes. It’s dramatic and funny and even has a little political message about international cooperation between the U.S. and China. Damon is such a likable actor it is easy to root for Watney. Daniels is the closest thing to a “villain”. Sometimes his responsibilities as NASA administrator are at odds with the mission of getting Watney back home. But the real enemy is time and resources and the tension created by both. If this all sounds a little familiar, think APOLLO 13. Astronauts in trouble and everyone working to bring them home. The themes are the same, but the execution is what makes this such a winning movie. The cinematography is wonderful, Scott creates a lonely yet beautiful landscape on Mars. It all works because it seems plausible. The movie has an epic feel and look. To rescue you from film boredom, go see THE MARTIAN.