Back in 1979, Ridley Scott stunned moviegoers with “Alien.” Now the visual storyteller returns to outer space – with a super-suspenseful saga of an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars. When a colossal dust storm forces the Ares 3 crew to abort their Mars surface exploration, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) orders a hasty evacuation, believing their crewmate, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) has been killed by flying debris. Read on…
But he’s alive, as satellite photography soon reveals. So it’s up to NASA director Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his cohorts at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to figure out how to help Watney stay alive in the habitation module and rescue him before his food supply runs out.
Fortunately, Watney is a resourceful botanist and courageous problem-solver. After removing the shrapnel lodged in his torso, he’s faced with basic survival tasks and the necessity of perseverance while facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this,” he declares – and proceeds to improvise and innovate, showing a disarmingly acerbic sense of humor. That’s evident when he runs out of ketchup and sprinkles crushed Viocodin on his potatoes. But there are always unforeseen catastrophes.
Screenwriter Drew Goddard (“World War Z”) has adapted Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, as director Ridley Scott meticulously delineates Watney’s ingenuity in his struggle to endure. He’s a plausible Robinson Crusoe, tossing around geek speak terms like hexadecimals and orbital trajectories.
Filmgoers may recall Matt Damon did an uncredited ‘bit’ as a stranded astronaut in “Interstellar” but, here, his charming, utterly convincing performance propels the drama on a desolate planet.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover and Macenzie Davis score as supportive scientists – with a nod to “Lord of the Rings” – while Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie comprise the Ares 3 team.
Reminiscent of solo tales like “Gravity,” “Cast Away” and “Moon,” it should certainly engender enthusiasm for the future of space travel, as NASA strives to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
FYI: Although Ridley Scott invited author Andy Weir to visit the set during filming in Hungary and Jordan, he declined, confessing, “I’m afraid of flying.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Martian” is an exhilarating 8 – an enthralling sci-fi adventure.