It has been said that while the death of millions is considered a statistic, the death of a single person is a tragedy–and that roughly sums up Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi foray, The Martian, a story about the extraordinary efforts to rescue Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut marooned on Mars by his crew who presume him dead after a tragic accident, and his even more extraordinary efforts to remain alive.
There have been a lot of big-budget sci-films in recent years and in the face of oversaturation, The Martian, while not especially original in content, has actually managed to find itself a little corner to call its own by being an unexpectedly upbeat tale about survival against all the odds. Mark Watney takes almost every knockback, every foil to his newest plan to get rescued, with a relentless can-do attitude – save for a few necessary low-points for Watney – that never quite grates as much as you think it might.
Though it comes close with some of the script’s attempts to be a little too funny for its own good. Hearing Matt Damon claim that he’s ‘going to science the shit’ out of his situation, for instance, is groan-inducing; the sort of joke that probably worked better delivered to a room of lackeys.
While its more light-hearted tone may make The Martian unusual in that regard, many of the classic sci-fi clichés are in, such as a room full of people staring anxiously at monitors, then suddenly erupting into standing ovation as two central characters exchange knowing glances. Broad clichés are in as well such as the irritating knack characters have for stopping a thought mid-sentence and leaving other characters (and the audience) on a cliffhanger as they fumble about looking for something to help prove their point.
The Martian is a film for people who love hearing people talk about science–at times it feels as if it is 70% scientific exposition, consisting mostly of scientists using salt and pepper shakers to explain things to each other. There isn’t much character development here, it’s people, in the words of Watney, ‘solving one problem after another.’ The Martian is an unashamed ode to the human spirit in the face of unlikely odds, a rallying call for for our species to work together if we are to traverse the unknown. Nothing that hasn’t been said many times before, sure, but sometimes it’s nice just to remind ourselves. (7)