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Martian, The (3D)

9/10

Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover, Chen Shu, Eddy Ko, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Director: Ridley Scott

The Martian is the best Ridley Scott offering in quite a while, especially after such unmemorable movies as Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Counsellor.

Here the central story is straightforward enough.

Astronaut Matt Damon is presumed dead after being caught in a raging sandstorm on the surface of Mars. And, after his fellow astronauts have blasted off back to Earth, Damon finds himself stranded on a hostile planet (luckily with a airtight base to live in) and faces an increasingly tough fight to survive.

Fortunately, Damon is a botanist – and, battling to stay alive as his food supplies run low, he manages to grow potatoes using his own excrement as manure. Which is something that should go down really well with trendy recyclers everywhere.

This portion of the narrative is easy to recognize – it’s essentially Robinson Crusoe n Space and works very well with Scott and his movie magic collaborators creating a convincingly arid alien Red Planet where Damon can command centre screen to strong effect.

Luckily for Damon, he’s not reduced to sending messages in bottles in the hope of being rescued. He manages to signal Earth that he is alive, triggering off the second, exciting narrative strand, as his crewmates, NASA, a team of scientists and an unexpected genius collaborate to find some way to bring him back home, hoping to fulfil Damon’s line “Every human being has a basic instinct; to help each other out”.

Damon is the star (his is the only image on posters for the film) and he makes the most of his role, effectively combining the character of a man determined to survive against the odds with someone who also manages to come up with an appropriate quip in the right place, radioing his Earthbound would-be rescuers, “It’s been seven days since I ran out of ketchup” and then, having grown an impressive beard, wanting to be called in true buccaneer style “Captain Blondbeard” (although, on screen his face fuzz appeared to be rather more ginger than blond) and stating proudly as his live-or-die mid-space rescue gets going, “I get to fly like Iron Man’.

Scott and Co: are lucky – Drew Goddard’s screenplay, based on the novel by Andy Weir, is strong on character and not repetitious and, while Damon is the dramatic sun in the impressively created solar system, there are useful supporting performances from Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Wiig and
Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Dariusz Wolski's 3D cinematography is Oscar-worthy. And stunning special effects create credibility both on Mars and in space.

Interestingly, considering Damon’s prominence on screen and in the promotion of the film as well, and the overwhelming suspicion that he will eventually survive against the appalling odds stacked up on him, The Martian creates considerable suspense.

Result? An epic science-fiction suspense thriller that definitely thrills, convinces and entertains well beyond the usual bounds of sci-fi genre movies.

Alan Frank

USA 2015. UK Distributor: 20th Centry Fox. Colour by deluxe.
141 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 29 Sep 2015