Monday, 5 October 2015

Movie review: The Martian, dir Ridley Scott (2015)

A movie with a directorial assignment like that you'd have to be rooting for. Ridley Scott's filmography reads like a Who's Who of brilliance, including as it does the first Alien film (1979) and the classic sci-fi dystopian thriller Blade Runner (1982). He is obviously a genius and so for the man to pick up tools once more to do something useful for humanity you're not surprised that it's a movie that celebrates pure competence above every other consideration.

I might sound overly Romantic in this assessment but this movie describes a world I want to live in. It is a world where superpowers unite in a concerted effort to resolve insurmountable problems, where women are treated as equally able to lead as men, and where it is brains - rather than brawn or a narrow type of physical courage alone - that shines when things turn pear-shaped. A movie that ends with the classic camp anthem 'I Will Survive' (1979) by Gloria Gaynor, that also featured in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1992), another film about a trip on a red planet.

So if you come out of the movie thinking that this was just a slick piece of mental chewing gum, I tell you that I enjoyed the heck out of it. The casting was superb, the timing of the songs was magnificent - especially when David Bowie's 'Starman', from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), and ABBA's 'Waterloo' (1974) kick in - and the overall triumph in the story of the nerds was unsurpassably delicious, especially in our age where the technocrats are in the ascendant on account of the pervasive influence of the internet.

The story is remarkably simple yet effective. The plot is pushed along by the intellect and passions of a group of men and women following the fortunes of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a biologist with a Mars mission who gets left for dead when a severe storm strikes his expedition and the rest of the crew embark for earth. Using his unique scientific knowledge, Watney works out how to extend his meagre rations for the time left until the next Mars mission is due to arrive on the red planet by parlaying a vacuum-packed bag of potatoes into a workable crop of potato plants. Back on earth, a NASA team led by Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discover by accident that the abandoned Watney is still alive. Using equipment they have to take out of storage, equipment dating back to the first unmanned Mars missions, they establish communications with Watney and work with him to help him overcome his difficulties.

When the rocket launching the relief payload NASA has prepared to extend Watney's rations explodes during take-off, however, things take a distinctly negative turn until a young physicist named Rich Purness (Donald Glover) at an affiliated agency comes up with a plan to slingshot the returning Hermes spaceship - the craft carrying the rest of the mission crew, which is captained by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), back to earth - around the earth and back to Mars, and the head of China's space agency Guo Ming (Eddy Ko) decides to step in to help.

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