THE MARTIAN – REVIEW: or Saving Matt Damon Part 3 – in which Matt Damon goes to Mars and gets left behind and has to survive like Robinson Crusoe on Mars.
When a storm causes the crew to abort their scientific mission on Mars, Mark Wantey (Damon), the botanist, is hit by some debris and left for dead as the rocket blasts off. Alone and facing a four-year stay on the dead red planet, Watney uses all his scientific know how to grow food, create water and repair the Hab (the plastic dome) which was only designed for a thirty-day mission. Meanwhile, on Earth NASA slowly realizes that its astronaut is not dead and, led by Jeff Daniels, must quickly improvise a rescue mission to try and save him.
The Martian is the first film I’ve seen that’s not about Reality TV but entirely takes on the grammar of Reality TV. The tale of can-do survival is filmed by Ridley Scott as if it was one of those interactive documentaries on the Discovery Channel. First we have the video journals of Watney, which are delivered with that same jokey intimacy of a contender on a show about getting off an island. Then we have speeded up film as he puts his plan into action. And finally a jaunty soundtrack, full of toe tapping hits with some lyrical relevance to what is going on. There are no adversaries – except the harshness of the environment and the cold distances of space – nor is there any real tension. Although the danger of Watney dying is obviously there, no one is going to be wicked, cowardly, upset, or flummoxed. Jesus Christ, even Sean Bean is a decent person and he doesn’t die!
There’s nothing wrong with this. The Martian has to be the most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed view of the new Space Age since the first season of Star Trek. The fact that there isn’t really a new Space Age is just a detail: The Martian is almost willing it into existence and that’s no bad thing. It’s tight, efficient and intelligent entertainment, but it does leave one wondering where Matt Damon is going next and who is going to have to rescue him.