THE MARTIAN

For a “lost-in-space” story, The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, is an unusually feel-good film. Comparisons with recent space-set dramas like Interstellar and Gravity may be inevitable, but its concepts are neither as mind-bending as Nolan’s, nor is it as emotionally wrenching as Cuaron’s masterpiece. Instead it’s a refreshingly old-fashioned rescue-and-survival movie with a protagonist so compelling, it’s impossible not to root for him every step of the way. 

 
After a fierce storm forces the crew of a NASA Mars mission to make an emergency evacuation and head back to Earth, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut presumed dead by his team, wakes up alone on the Red Planet. He’s stranded 140 million miles from home, with only enough food supplies to last a few months. The NASA big-shots back in Houston are putting their heads together to find a solution, but it’s going to take four years for a rescue party to reach him. 
 
It’s a grim scenario, but our hero is no whiner. Even in the face of insurmountable odds and near-certain death, Watney takes on each obstacle with a determination that’s inspiring, and what’s more he manages to hang on to his sense of humor through the ordeal. Before long, he’s found a practical way to grow potatoes on the Martian sand. To fend off isolation he records video logs, and keeps himself entertained by listening to 80s disco hits from another astronaut’s playlist. 
 
The Martian, not surprisingly, rests on Damon’s shoulders, and he delivers an incredible performance that effectively conveys Watney’s mix of ingenuity and loneliness. Scott, who has made more than a few space films but never one as cheery, mines Drew Goddard’s script (based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir) for many laughs, all the while keeping the tone upbeat…even when danger and uncertainty looms large. 
 
But the film is as much about teamwork and the sense of brotherhood that binds scientists together everywhere. Scenes in which some of the smartest minds in the world collaborate to tackle problems related to Watney’s situation feel genuine and unexpectedly emotional. One particular scene, in which Watney’s original team is confronted with a major decision, caused a lump in my throat. 
 
Yet, at times you’ll wish the film didn’t spend long stretches on earth, away from Damon. And it does feel a tad stretched at nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes. Jessica Chastain stands out as the crew leader racked with guilt over inadvertently stranding Watney, but Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor barely make an impression in the underwritten roles of the NASA chief and the Director of Mars Missions. 
 
Bubbling with cheeky dialogue and propelled by its ‘can-do’ spirit, The Martian is an optimistic survival tale with a leading man who owns the screen. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. Scott puts a nice spin on the modern sci-fi, and a gives us a film that warms the heart.

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