Ridley Scott’s latest film The Martian features not only the most stunning cinematography of an alien planet since Guardians of the Galaxy, but also a surprising amount of humour as well – an interesting foray for a director not known for his love of comedies.
Whilst this lighter tone is the result of Scott’s fidelity to the source material, namely Andy Weir’s 2011 bestselling novel, it allows for some classic comedic moments, such as when stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) complains about his fellow crew member’s taste in disco music and NASA’s attempts to get him to watch his language when broadcasting his statements to the world. In addition, the NASA personnel contain a few actors known for their comedic talents. Both Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover deliver stand out performances respectively as NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose and astronomer Rich Purnell – the scene where Glover describes his plan for retrieving Watney using his fellow astronauts using Wiig and NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) as human diagrams is hilarious if a little implausible.
However, The Martian also contains visually striking shots of the Martian landscape Watney finds himself stranded on courtesy of acclaimed cinematographer Dariusz Wolski as well as some memorable images of Watney trying to create a life on Mars before he is recovered by NASA. Such examples include farming potatoes and trying to create water – with Watney almost blowing himself up in the process. Damon is able to use these moments to not only establish the humorous aspects of his character, but also the anger and frustration Watney feels at his isolation on Mars. For example, Damon’s acting as a result of the destruction of his potato crop really helps emphasise the despair of Watney having to ration his food in order to survive.
One criticism of The Martian is that the film places less focus on the psychological issues and turmoil Watney faces stranded on Mars, isolated from his family and crew with a dwindling life expectancy. Whilst these issues are touched upon in the film, there is more emphasis placed on comic moments with Watney as well as the NASA team’s attempts to bring him home. That being said, The Martian is a return to form for Ridley Scott as a director and is recommended viewing in a cinema near you, where the majestic vistas of Mars can be experienced on the big screen.
By Adam Thornton