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The Martian

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Starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain

This is director Ridley’s Scott’s fourth foray into science fiction: a rotating shot of space, immense, infinite, with the red rim of planet Mars blazing danger even as it acts as a beacon to human endeavour. A botanist gathering soil samples as part of NASA’s Area 3 team, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is literally blown away when a sandstorm of Mad Max proportions sweeps in. Reading that his bio suit has been breached, Captain Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) reports “Mark Watney is dead” as the Mars ascent vehicle climbs above miles of swirling dust, a message that is in turn conveyed to a dismayed public by the Director of NASA (Jeff Daniels, saying Watney’s not dead, he simply sews shut the ragged hole in his stomach but that’s just the start of his problems. How to get a message back to Houston? How to survive for four years with just 300 days’ worth of rations until the next Ares mission rocks up on Mars? And how not to go insane when the only music at your dis­posal is Captain Lewis’ disco playlist? To a large degree, the answer to all of the above is ‘with good humour’. Laughing in the red face of death, Watney, far from undergoing an existential breakdown, knuckles down as the film cuts purposefully between Mars, the crew of the Ares 3, the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to maintain momentum, marshalling crisp turns from a stellar support cast as they steers the drama towards Apollo 13-levels of excitement. Based on Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian is a savvy blend of the tech­nical and the personal, of outer and inner jour­neys, and of teamwork and isolated glory. One man’s refusal to fold acts as an ode to the unquenchable human spirit, with science and Scott always on hand to quell any cheap senti­ment. Here, all is metic­ulous and measured, as befits a film signed off by NASA, whether piloting fist-pumping set-piec­es or nurturing muffled moments of triumph. Even the timely interven­tion of the Chinese space program fits the story of humankind united by a singular plight. Some might say it is this year’s Gravity? but more robust in story, less dazzling and ostentatious in its effects and camera work, it does share, however, in being a brainy blockbuster engi­neered to soar especially on the big screen.

Rated M 7 out of 10

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