Ridley Scott is ridiculous. I mean, there are plenty of directors that are good visualists that aren’t great picking a good screenplay. But not many just seem to accidentally get handed them and just knock it out of the park. This is a man who seemingly has no idea what Blade Runner was really about, really didn’t know a thing about horror movies before Alien and fucked it up with Prometheus, and had a directors cut of American Gangster that ends with a moment so tone deaf to the rest of the movie that you are genuinely curious if he really read the script. Ridley has done many movies, all of them visually unbelievable (Exodus excluded of course). But it’s been a good few years since he’s made a movie worth a damn (2007’s American Gangster, although I have a mild enjoyment with Body of Lies). Prometheus is a visual masterpiece, one of the greatest looking and designed movies ever. But the script is garbage and it’s exactly what Ridley wanted, mangling the very essence of the Alien universe. James Cameron and sometimes Steven Spielberg have a similar problem, not quite seeing the weaknesses in a movie. Ridley though has seemingly taken a masters class in how to misread a project. Yet Ridley returns yet again to the great void in the sky in the genre that helped kick off his career to create possibly the best movie he’s made since Blade Runner.
The Martian was self published in 2011 by Andy Weir, becoming so popular and well received that it was snatched up by a publishing agency and set the book off to print to become even more popular. Popular enough for the movie to be almost immediately optioned and set on a fast track to becoming a massive production helmed by the preeminent director of epic stories and starring Matt Damon in a star studded ensemble. The premise of the book is simple. When a crew of astronauts is forced to abort a mission on Mars thanks to a massive sand storm on the way, botanist Mark Watney is seemingly killed and left for dead on the planet. But he somehow survives and has to somehow keep alive until NASA can mount a rescue. But of course, there’s more to it than that and we follow Watney’s attempts to survive as well as the braintrust at NASA trying their damnedest to work out a way to get Mark home as well as the crew on their way home.
The movie could have easily been a movie that was a tense, nerve wrenching experience for the whole run time or it could have been a thrilling adventure. But the movie is more complex than that. It’s a movie that is equal part tense and equal parts thrilling, but it’s also a very human movie with heart and humor and sadness. Yet what rounds this movie out is hope. Hope is what keeps this movie going and it’s not a misguided hope. No, this is an optimistic movie that is a celebration of intellect and ingenuity. Every problem is solved with brain power, not brawn. And a lot of time is spent on massively complicated solutions that are perfectly explained to us plebs in the audience. It’s funny, earlier in the year we kept hearing about how we need to celebrate optimism and science by going to see Tomorrowland. Yet that movie rightfully failed because it wasn’t a good movie and it muddied it’s message, not simply because it ends in unmotivated C level action movie nonsense. All those people that cried their tears about the need for hope should see this movie and bang the drum for it, as this is a great movie that celebrates positivity and science. It would be cool if this helped light a fire under the asses of people of all ages to reignite the space field. But in a country where we allow children to die because guns are dem dere boys durn rights, rational thinking may be too high a goal for this movie.
The movie wouldn’t be the masterwork it is without the cast. Damon does phenomenal work as the wise ass, smart as a whip but still human Watney. He brings the man to life completely and sells the struggle as well as the brains and wit. If not for Good Will Hunting or The Departed, this might well be his best role. But he isn’t alone. Everyone does great work. Jeff Daniels does good work as the boss who has to deal with the unenviable task of PR issues and trying to make decisions that could damn at least one man to death. Ejiofor is great as well as the engineer who is tasked with helping to keep Watney alive. The supporting crew around them does great work as well to make the NASA in this movie feel alive. Actors like Kristin Wiig and Sean Bean and Donald Glover help out a great deal to shade out minor characters into real people. On the crew we got Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan to bring the astronauts to life and sell the connection to one another and the debt they feel to Watney.
Behind the camera, we obviously have Ridley since I rambled about him for a bit at the beginning of this article. He does amazing work, perfectly nailing the humor and the tension and making Mars a gorgeous place. But we also have Drew Goddard to thank. As the writer of the movie, he perfectly managed to translate the book to the screen without sacrificing the feeling the book went for. Some stuff had to go, but nothing was really changed on a fundamental level. It’s funny and tense in all the right moments and it gives a blueprint for everyone to do amazing work.
For a while there, I never though I’d say this again but Ridley Scott has made a great fucking movie. Legitimately great. Surprisingly great since Scott seemingly has almost no idea what it is he is making at any given time. But he honed in on this sum bitch and knocked it the fuck out of the park. It’s a great flick, one of optimism and intelligence. See it on the big screen and enjoy another space epic from Scott.