Direction: Ridley Scott
Actors: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain
One of the less-impressive films of his chequered career, Ridley Scott’s latest foray into science fiction lacks the chills and thrills of his previous genre classics, Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Working from a script adapted by Drew Goddard from Andy Weir’s debut novel of the same name, the British-born director blasts off on a manned mission to Mars.
As with most outer-space adventures, things don’t go according to plan. After a freak sandstorm engulfs the red planet, the commander (Chastain) of the spaceship is forced to abort the mission and begin the long voyage home.
In the confusion, an astronaut-botanist (Damon) is impaled by satellite debris. Separated from his colleagues and presumed dead, he is left behind. It should come as no surprise that the abandoned astronaut is very much alive and determined to stay so despite daunting odds.
In case you’re expecting alien predators to fetch up, banish the thought. As it turns out, the Martian of the title is the decidedly human survivor who sets out to single-handedly colonise the inhospitable planet.
The narrative cuts back and forth between NASA officials in Houston attempting to mount a rescue operation; the in-transit mother ship whose crew devises their own plan to retrieve the mate they left behind; and the stranded astronaut who, besides using his expertise as a botanist to generate water and grow potatoes, also finds time to communicate with mission control.
The proceedings of the space opera are enlivened somewhat by Scott’s signature visual panache and the use of ’70s era disco tunes. On the other hand, the spectator is smothered by an overload of scientific jargon and the script’s delusions of profundity.
In an unwarranted overture to the Chinese demographic, help is sought from that country’s space administration. If a director of the calibre of Ridley Scott can stoop to such a money-grubbing manoeuvre, Hollywood is clearly in dire straits.
While the rest of the cast is uniformly underwhelming, Matt Damon gets the ultimate dream role — to be solo for most of the film’s running time. After two hours and twenty minutes of watching him slog and toil, though, viewers will likely be relieved when the end credits roll.