Movie Review: The Martian
Nerds have ruled popular culture for quite a while now. Big Bang Theory, Brian Cox and Benedict Cumberbach are the popular ones and it’s no longer a case of geeks as underdogs and jocks winning popularity contests. It’s therefore no surprise that a film like The Martian, packed full of science, celebrating space travel and putting intellect on a pedestal, is currently ruling the roost at the box office.
Our hero here is not an all-action cop who plays by his own rules or a patriotic soldier saving his country, he is a botanist. A botanist who is also an astronaut maybe, but a gardening boffin nonetheless. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a NASA employee who gets stranded on Mars after a mission goes awry. Through his video log on the spacecraft’s CCTV we learn how he plans to keep himself in fuel, food and water while he waits it out until the next Mars mission due in the three year’s time as every presumes he is dead.
The isolated spaceman Watney is engaging, funny and relatable. Back on earth, once NASA have established that he is in fact alive, have to negotiate some tricky PR terrain whilst orchestrating a rescue mission. Jeff Daniels as the space agency’s head honcho, Teddy Sanders plays the role of conflicted government employee brilliantly. One of the major driving tensions of the film is the dilemma of attempting a dangerous rescue mission while putting the future funding of the agency at risk.
As well as being swamped with science and maths, the film does at times risk appearing a promotional film for NASA. But the humanity of the central protagonist often saves it. Watney not only has to fight against the harsh environment of the red planet but also the evils which lie in the music collection of his departed commander. This however does not excuse a one of several montages being soundtracked by the far-too-apt Starman by David Bowie.
A geeky joke about a mission being named after a Lord of the Rings reference hammers home the point about this film being a celebration of the Brainiac as well as NASA employee’s devotion to the agency. The astrodynamics expert (who hatches the ‘Elrond’ plan) appears to sleep in the NASA offices, and there’s little talk of the space-bound crew’s family back home on earth. It’s down to the skill of the story telling that we completely buy into this NASA family mentality.
The Martian, through the use of drama, tension and humour is entertaining for its entirety. The shots of the Mars landscape are at times breath-taking and the atmosphere in the NASA offices always palpable. The cast is packed with big names, as well as Damon and Daniels, we have Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig and Chiwetal Ejiofor, however this doesn’t distract from the story and each actor brings something to the table. Long live the nerd.
You can see The Martian at FACT Picturehouse now. FACT Picturehouse website