3 stars
Forget any thought of aliens, there are no Martians for you here. At least, none of the ill-tempered, body-inhabiting, earth-invading types (with or without optional antennae and ray-guns) determined to wage war on our world. This Martian is of the immigrant kind, a NASA astronaut who gets left behind, presumed dead, when a mission on Mars goes sour.
So starts the legendary director Ridley Scott's latest foray into sci-fi, one that seeks to harvest from ground tilled in recent years by Iñárritu (Gravity) and Nolan (Interstellar). Not that Scott needs to exactly, after-all he re-wrote the rules for 'modern' sci-fi. Yet there is a sense here that he's playing someone else's game here, following their rules. Gone is the bravado and ingenuity that set films like Alien, Bladerunner and even Prometheus, apart.

Back on Mars, Mark Watney (Matt Damon – Behind The Candelabra) is, no surprise, very much alive and intent on staying so if he can manage the time it will take for A) him to alert mission control that rumours of his death are greatly exaggerated and B) sit out the long wait for them to come back and rescue him. The problem is that there's a negative sum game between the amount of food he will need, and the amount of food he has. Necessity forces adaptation and he begins to colonise the planet – harvesting water, growing potatoes – and in doing so, becomes the first Martian.

As the action cuts back and forth between NASA (run by a no-nonsense Jeff Daniels (Looper)), the returning space ship (run by a no-nonsense Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)) and breaks out to Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) in technical support and Kristen Wigg (The Diary Of A Teenage Girl) merely looking anxious, the story offers up a fairly predictable game of watch the clock. What keeps things moving is the invention taking place on the planet, at NASA and on the shuttle. How do we extract water from thin air? How do we staple our stomach back together? Move over MacGyver! Rumour has it that it's all based on sound science and that's the interesting part, in a Popular Mechanics kind of way.

What's not interesting in an emotional kind of way is everything else. The action is well staged, Scott's design is as crisp and alluring as ever, Harry Gregson-Williams' score keeps things thrumming along as do a very watchable, if un-stretched, cast. What The Martian lacks is true innovation – the kind that made Bladerunner an enduring classic, and true, edge-of-the-seat adventure – the kind that made both Interstellar and Gravity so gripping. While this is a perfectly enjoyable entertainment, there remains a troubling niggle that you're actually watching a (highly effective) two hour recruitment video for NASA. With the discovery of flowing water on Mars a mere two days prior to the film’s release, that niggle seems well founded.


Previewed at Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney, on 16 September 2015

Matt Damon
Jessica Chastain
Jeff Daniels
Chiwetel Ejiofor

Ridley Scott

Drew Goddard



141 minutes

October 1, 2015
The Martian (2015) on IMDb
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