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SYNOPSIS: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

Review by Louise Keller:
Humour is the unexpected bonus of this thrilling space rescue adventure that offers a bit of everything, as it keeps us on edge throughout. The story (adapted by World War Z screenwriter Drew Goddard from Andy Weir's novel) is dense, allowing us to connect not only to Matt Damon's stranded astronaut Mark Watney and feel his predicament, but to those who are pulling out all the stops to bring him home.

Damon has the same kind of broad appeal as Gravity star George Clooney and here, as Watney begins recording his video logs, we feel as though he is talking directly to each of us. While documenting his dilemma, he is in effect, talking to himself, solving one impossible issue at a time. The Martian has moments that are every bit as tense as those in Gravity (2013), but there's also an appealing irreverence through the film's frequent use of humour.

Ridley Scott's great achievement is to accomplish the perfect tone and keep us connected, while meshing the various plot lines. The storyline never feels fragmented, even though the characters are sometimes worlds away from each other.

There is no lengthy set up: the severe windstorm hits the Mars mission site almost immediately, forcing the crew to quickly evacuate, creating circumstances that leave leaves Watney alone on Mars, believed dead. Humour and problem solving are Watney's greatest tools, using his skills, resourcefulness and determination to come up with a plan for survival. Devising an ingenious way to grow food on a planet unable to sustain life is his first challenge.

Other story strands include those related to NASA and the subsequent sensitive PR nightmare. Jeff Daniels as the NASA director is as close to a villain as the film offers; Kristen Wiig as PR director; Chiwetel Ejiofor as the concerned missions director and Sean Bean as flight director. Watch for the scene in which genius 'orbital dynamicist' Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) makes a demonstration you won't forget. The relationships all matter.

Also key is the story strand involving Watney's crew, led by Jessica Chastain's Commander Lewis. There's a running gag about Watney's disdain for Commander Lewis' taste in music. In fact music plays an important role, and the juxtaposition of unexpected tunes adds to our overall enjoyment. Problems may be resolved but more pop up, each new challenge greater than the last. Are the risks calculated or could they be lunacy? With limited sols (Mars solar days) in which to devise a rescue plan, tension mounts as time starts to run out.

Damon carries the film comfortably on his broad shoulders, while there's plenty of good support by the strong cast. Entertaining, funny, tense and emotionally powerful; everything you could want in a film. It's terrific.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As the end credits roll, the song to see us out the door is I Will Survive, a none too subtle reminder of what the film is about. If we were so inclined, we could imagine the film to be a metaphor for our times, in which enlightened civilisation struggles to survive the vicious, hate filled dogma of fundamentalism. But that would be to project our preoccupations onto a Ridley Scott film, which is risky. Scott is first and foremost a showman filmmaker - and one very much at home hurling humans around in space - whose talent has grown as big as his canvas.

The ultimate survival movie, perhaps, The Martian is at once epic and intimate: it is epic in its setting (the universe) and intimate in its concerns (a single human). The film comes from the unlikely source of an internet series written by a self confessed nerd (Andy Weir) who loves maths and science. Apart from the fierce storm on Mars, everything else is scientifically plausible. But that is not the point. Not in a Ridley Scott film.

The story of an astronaut alone on a planet /lost in space is not original, but the detailed revelations of how he survives on Mars is. For me, that is not quite enough, even though it's impressive. I am also frustrated by missing so much dialogue (poor sound mix?) and being expected - nay, urged - to be amazed, entertained and moved. Those things should be organic, not pushed at me. But I suspect I am in the minority: this is a crowd pleaser on a grand scale and I certainly admire the craftsmanship and the cinematic values, although I could have wished for clearer exposition at times.

The contrived device of Chinese scientists coming to the aid of the American space agency is an unfortunate creative choice, bleeding the film of some authenticity. It smacks of empty tokenism and is poorly executed. Ridley Scott doesn't need to make shallow gestures with US / China relations to make this film universally appealing.

Yet the good things (including the score) are numerous, not least the performances, and the last half hour or so is especially gripping, technically brilliant and emotionally engaging.

Published March 17, 2016

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(US, 2015)

CAST: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Donald Glover

PRODUCER: Ridley Scott, Mark Huiffam, Simon Kinberg, Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

SCRIPT: Drew Goddard (novel by Andy Weir)


EDITOR: Arthur Max

MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 30, 2015



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2016

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