After the double whammy of sci-fi revelations that were “Gravity” in 2013 and “Interstellar” in 2014, along comes “The Martian,” a highly ambitious sci-fi epic that combines spectacular visuals, career-best work from both star Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott, and a story that is, at once, smart and riveting from beginning to end.
Damon plays Matt Watney, an astronaut on a mission with his crew to Mars. During the expedition, a gigantic storm hits them, and the crew quickly evacuates the Red Planet, not realizing that Watney has been left behind. Watney manages to survive and make a video showing that he’s still alive.
Watney discovers that it will take at least four years for another shuttle to reach him, and he uses his botanist skills to quickly learn how to make food and ration the supplies he already has. Not to mention, the only source of entertainment is one of his fellow astronauts’ collection of 1970s disco CDs.
In the meantime, NASA tries to figure out how to establish contact with Watney and get him home. Jeff Daniels stars as the director of NASA, and helping his efforts is an outstanding supporting cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean. They all do some terrific work.
“The Martian” is based on a novel by Andy Weir, and screenwriter Drew Goddard seems to really respect the strong writing and themes in this adapted screenplay. Director Scott showcases his visual flair, particularly in the sequences of Mars, which are tremendously believable and effective.
Yet with all the talent behind the camera and even in the supporting performances, it’s really Damon’s show. He brings enough intelligence, determination and a surprising amount of humor, which ultimately makes him the centerpiece of this film. We root for him to get home. We relish every one of his successes. We feel the pain and disappointment of each crushing setback.
This is easily Scott’s best work since “Gladiator,” and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Damon deserves some kind of consideration come awards season. “The Martian” doesn’t necessarily break any new ground, but it’s totally engrossing on every level.
(Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.)
This review is dedicated to the memory of Peggy Nobles.
Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.