the colonial theatre marquee

The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott. US. 2015. PG-13. 144 minutes. Fox. Digital.
Fri., November 20, 2015 thru Wed., November 25, 2015
Friday
November 20, 2015
7:00 pm
Sunday
November 22, 2015
4:15 pm
Sunday
November 22, 2015
7:00 pm
Monday
November 23, 2015
6:30 pm
Tuesday
November 24, 2015
7:30 pm
Wednesday
November 25, 2015
2:00 pm
Wednesday
November 25, 2015
4:45 pm
Wednesday
November 25, 2015
7:30 pm

“Poor Matt Damon. Nobody wants to be friends with him. Last year, in Interstellar, he played an astronaut named Mann, who was sent through a wormhole and ended up alone, on a frozen planet. This year, in The Martian, he plays an astronaut named Mark Watney, who is marooned in a pelting storm and left behind, alone, on the red planet. The difference is that Mann was cunning and resentful, prepared to cause havoc in his desperation to escape, whereas Watney is cunning and resourcefulnot a blamer, or a soul in meltdown, but a model of cockiness and grit as he sets about the business of survival.

Watney is part of Ares III, a NASA mission to Mars, captained by the phlegmatic Lewis (Jessica Chastain), who floats around her ship like a zero-gravity mermaid. The rest of the crew comprises Martinez (Michael Pea), Johanssen (Kate Mara), Vogel (Aksel Hennie), and Beck (Sebastian Stan). Having landed on the planet, and settled into base camp, they last eighteen days before the storm blows in and forces them to abort, blasting off at a perilous angle. Watney is abandoned, presumed dead. All this happens fast, at the outset of the movieso fast, indeed, that its the only section that feels rushed. We scarcely have a chance to get our bearings before they are thrown out of whack, and we see very little of Watney before he wakes up in the desert, on a nice bright Martian day, with a length of broken radar antenna sticking out of his gut. No matter. From here on, we have all the time in the world. And he has four years to kill, on his world, before anyone can swing by to pick him up.

But how do you dramatize a waiting game? Given the threat of tedium, and the stony desolation of the backdrop, some viewers will be bracing themselves for Beckett in space, with the added twist that Godot could burn up on rentry. Do not fret. The director is Ridley Scott, who, as if taking a cue from his hero, rejoices in the challenge of solitude. He cuts between the cameras mounted inside the base, which show Watney toiling away (plus, in a worrying side panel, the pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels). There is also a video diary, to which Watney confides his schemes and ruminations, all of which scorn the existential in favor of the pragmatic. He is the mission botanist, ideally placed to raise crops with which to feed himself. Mars will come to fear my botany powers, he declares, before gathering the dried excrement of his colleagues. Plug your nostrils, add soil, sow seeds, hang around, andhey prestopotatoes. If there is water on Mars, nobody told Watney, so he has to brew his own. In short, when he announced, early in his predicament, Im going to have to science the shit out of this, he wasnt kidding.

Ridley Scott is seventy-seven years old, yet the startling fact is that The Martian appears to be the work of a young man. When Watney, having made contact with Earth, states that he is really looking forward to not dying, he speaks for the whole production, which thrums with an appetite for life. It cant get enough of the right stuff. There are plenty of scenes back at NASA, where the bigwigsplayed by good-humored actors like Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiigstruggle to keep up with Watneys progress, and where even a simple press conference is framed and edited to keep the tone sprightly and deft. Much of Scotts output in the past decade, from Kingdom of Heaven (2005) to Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), resounded with a heavy tread, whereas the new film, based on a novel by Andy Weir, is so light on its feet that anybody listening at the door of the theatre might think that there was a comedy playing inside. Again and again, chances for portentousness arise and get batted aside. When the folks on Ares III, still journeying home, learn that their friend is alive, and that lines of communication are open, Martinez sends him an e-mail: Sorry we left you on Mars, but we just dont like you. He knows that Watney will get a kick out of that, and behind the joshing is the unspoken promise that, come what may, the crew will move heaven and earth to get him back.

It is thirty-six years since Scott made Alien, and the true companion piece to that great film is not Prometheusthe gloomy, beautiful, and oddly superfluous prequel that he directed in 2012but The Martian. Sigourney Weaver and Matt Damon are cut from similar cloth. True, the first is faced by a beast with acid for blood, while the second solemnly reveals that it has been seven days since I ran out of ketchup, but both are loners by force of circumstance and copers by instinct. In a recent interview, Scott described Robinson Crusoe as one of my favorite books as a kid and its hero as the first astronaut, and the new film tunes in to that old fixation. So does its leading man. Damon has never seemed more at home than he does here, millions of miles adrift. Would any other actor have shouldered the weight of the role with such diligent grace? He is our most unstarry star, no longer needing to hunt for our good will. Someone like Tom Cruise is too acutely conscious of his image to convince as a regular Joe, and Christian Bale too remote, whereas Damon, like Crusoe, feels stranded on our behalf, tasked with digging up the best of himself. Hence the first, grainy picture of Watney that is patched through to NASA; he may be Lazarus, come from the dead, but he poses in his spacesuit, thumbs way up, as the Fonz. Terrible place, Mars. Happy days.” (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker)

Access more reviews at metacritic.com.