Film review: The Martian

This beautifully shot Ridley Scott sci-fi has laughs, but with its too plucky hero lacks dramatic charge, says Michael Joyce.

The director of Alien and Blade Runner (yes, and Prometheus) returning to sci-fi is a big deal, even if it is to basically remake Robinson Crusoe on Mars. During a hasty, forced evacuation, Damon is left behind, believed dead, on the red planet.

He then has to try and survive until someone notices and can come back for him. It’s like the Camerons leaving their daughter in the pub and then finding themselves stuck in a one way system that means they can’t get back to her for several years, by which time she will have run out of crisps and will have to try making her own bar snacks.

He’s approaching 80 but Scott turns out a film a year and you often sense that speed supersedes reflection in his film making.

The Martian though is a meticulous production. The scenes on Mars and in space look incredibly realistic, while the 3D is some of the most effective I’ve seen.

In four decades Scott has largely shunned comedy. The Martian though is filled with chuckles and levity. I think this is to make up for a plot that is frugal with the excitement, to the extent you’d think it was based on a true story.

It’s an impressive production, but I have to confess I grew a bit impatient with it. It’s two hours of beautifully-shot problem-solving, flicking between Damon on Mars growing his potatoes and the NASA boffins on Earth scratching their heads. And every problem has the same solution – incomprehensible jargon. Damon’s astronaut is eager beaver upbeat and throws himself into each new challenge with the enthusiasm of a Blue Peter presenter fixing up his spaceship with stickyback plastic. You assume this is his survival technique, but he really doesn’t seem to have any dark side at all. If even once we’d seen him succumb to depression at the horrible sense of isolation, the film would’ve had more dramatic charge.

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He’s so plucky, it’s as though they left Doris Day on the moon. The poster has Matt Damon’s face and the words Bring Him Home – I’d have left him there, just to wipe the smile off his face.

Rating: 3/5

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