Consider Ridley Scott.
A director I genuinely regard as cinema’s greatest living visualist, he’s recently been knocking out films the rate of Woody Allen (roughly one a year) despite the scale being 10000 times greater.
An impressive feat to be sure, but the rather awkward reality is that he’s been making cinematic marmite for most of his career. Alien, Blade Runner and Thelma And Louise aside, literally everything since the mighty Gladiator has split audiences clean down the middle.
And I’m no different, despite their flaws Hannibal, Black Hawk Down and Prometheus struck a chord with me while others such as Robin Hood, Exodus and A Good Year simply struck me as “pretty” and not much else.
Thankfully, with The Martian, the old bugger has finally once again nailed a film so insanely accessible, the vast majority of audiences will embrace it.
Why? Because it’s straight up fucking fun, that’s why.
Leaving the beautiful navel-gazing of Gravity and the puzzle-box complexity of Interstellar behind, The Martian shows both of them up by (much like it’s protagonist) simply having a cracking sense of humour.
Matt Damon (no Team America jokes please, this here’s a classy review) shines as the botanist stranded on the red planet after an accident during a storm makes them think he’s dead. After patching his wounds and working out how long he can survive (there’s a LOT of math in this movie, somehow all of it bizarrely fascinating…) he resolves not to curl up and die and simply “sciences the shit” out of his situation.
Eskewing the mooching, despair that some other “shipwrecked” movies rely on to make their hero relatable, the film leans more towards humorous determination. Damon’s character is a funny guy, delivering sardonic comments about the legalities of becoming a space pirate and other musings directly to us, the audience via his video diary and raiding the stuff his unaware crew mates have left behind to pass the time. It may be to his dismay that his rather serious commander (another Interstellar alumni Jessica Chastain) has a huge love for disco but it’s a big boon for us. The music in this film bonds us to this intergalactic adventure as much as the tunes in Guardians Of The Galaxy did. This guy may be dead at any minute but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves.
On the ground things are slightly less visually stunning but no less engaging as NASA employ their own (again, oddly hypnotic) math in order to bring their man home. Debates between stern boss Jeff Daniels (yes, THAT Jeff Daniels) and his employees Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kirsten Wiig (yes, THAT Kirsten Wiig) and Sean Bean (yes, THAT – are you even LISTENING?) are no less engrossing.
As the days, months and years trot on (yes, YEARS, this is space travel after all) the plight ratchets up the tension accordingly to unbearable levels. You have something actually invested in this. You give a shit.
Any problems? Not really, not from where I’m standing. Some may scoff at the rather miraculous usage of duck tape but I can’t possibly speculate on that. This is We’ve Got (Back) Issues, not Mythbusters.
So all in all it’s a triumph. For Damon (not going nuts while stranded on an alien planet for the SECOND time in roughly a calendar year). For Ridley Scott. For movies set on Mars (name another good one that isn’t Total Recall, go on). For 70’s disco. And for you.