Review: The Martian

The Martian still

Mark Watney sits on the surface of Mars. Credit: 20th Century Fox

Alone on a planet where the air will kill you, the ground is barren, and it’s so cold you’ll freeze to death; you wake up and realise no one even knows you’re alive. This is the situation that Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself in the latest blockbuster, The Martian. After a disaster on his mission to the red planet, Watney is left behind 140 million miles from aid, with no way to contact Earth. The only man on Mars has nothing but his wits to survive.

Luckily, it’s not long before NASA realises they’ve left a man behind and begin to mount the most ambitious rescue mission in history. For every step closer Watney takes to coming home, another thing breaks, explodes or tries to kill him. While the whole world is looking to Mars in support of Watney, there are many times when the only person he can rely on is himself.

The action flicks back between Mars, those on Earth and the vessel carrying the five other crew mates back and forth between the two. The reminder of all the people that were working to bring one man home helped to give heart to what could so easily have been a dry story of one man growing potatoes and fixing things. However, while this served to highlight the triumphs of every obstacle overcome, it seemed to do the opposite for every set back that occurred on Mars. Major accidents that could easily have killed Watney were easily fixed with a roll of duct tape in a few minutes, making it seem that surviving on Mars was relatively easy when in truth it is anything but.

The bigger challenge was the constant struggle with loneliness, and it was here that the film shone. Though thousands at NASA work tirelessly, ultimately Watney is alone. Fantastically played by Damon, he has nothing but is intellect and smarm to fend off not only the inhospitable Martian terrain, but the psychological horror of being the only living soul on an entire planet.
Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the depiction of the planet itself. Mars is shown in its full majestic beauty, at once showing the incredible wonder that inspires and draws people to it while simultaneously emphasising its barrenness and emptiness. This is a world that humans cannot survive on, and yet Watney does.

For those of you that have read Andy Weir’s book on which the film is based, there are several changes. Where the book deals with how to survive on Mars, the film concentrates much more on the rescue. Much of the hardcore science nerdery is mentioned, but passed over quickly and several of Watney’s major disasters are by skipped completely, but the spirit and humour of the book very much remains. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend giving it a read. Bring a calculator.

The Martian is a tribute to human determination and exploration and I highly recommend it.

The Martian will be showing in cinemas around the UK from 1 October.