Wednesday, 7 October 2015

I bloody loved The Martian.

Watching Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut Mark Watney trot around Mars solving problems (running out of food, the comms equipment is knackered, etc.) is a delight, not dumbing down the science but keeping it fun, and the tone is pitched perfectly to keep it so – Drew Goddard’s script is very funny at times, tense at others, sometimes both. And it never drags.

Which is remarkable, as it's two hours and twenty minutes. But (perhaps despite surface appearance - he's planting potatoes!) every scene moves things forward, every situation adds new dangers, and there's a very solid dramatic structure keeping us hooked (the part of my brain that ticks off act breaks was very impressed). The disco music also works to keep energy levels up – extra points for the ironic choice of ‘Hot Stuff’ while he’s dealing with his heating problem.

The subplots back at home work too, with every character given their own little story as part of the larger effort to #BringHimHome. A particular shout-out to Sean Bean, who of course plays the straight-talking, no-bullshit Yorkshire wing of NASA, and to Donald Glover, who can science the shit out of me any day. Nice that everyone’s on Watney’s side, too – while there are some interesting arguments and the PR angle comes into play, the clichĂ© of the villainous bureaucrat who plots to abandon Watney is avoided. It’s all very uplifting.

And its that optimism which really stood out for me. Downbeat sci-fi exposing the problems of the world is doubtlessly important, but cheery stuff has its place too - there's a kid somewhere who's been inspired into a career as a botanist, or even an astronaut, and isn't that wonderful?

All in all, it's so good to see Ridley Scott make a sci-fi film with a good script for the first time in ages. Scott's a very talented visual director – and indeed the Mars landscapes here look stunning – but he can't tell a good script from a Prometheus. When he teams up with skilled writers, amazing things happen. 

In short: Drew Goddard's brilliant, every American government agency should employ Sean Bean, Donald Glover's hot, you should go see The Martian. But you knew all that.


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