Metro-East Living

Life found on Mars: It’s Matt Damon

Matt Damon is all alone in a scene from the "The Martian."
Matt Damon is all alone in a scene from the "The Martian." 20th Century Fox

What It’s About

Three cheers for math and science! “The Martian” is the best argument for emphasizing in schools the problem-solving skills developed by mathematicians, botanists, chemists and physicists.

This faithful adaptation of Andy Weir’s page-turning bestseller is also an edge-of-your seat thriller that thrives on convincing tech talk and Matt Damon’s virtuoso performance.

He is among the wise-cracking, tight crew of Ares 3, a manned mission to Mars. But their research efforts are cut short by a dangerous storm. Botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is struck by flying communication tower debris and carried away, presumed dead. The devastated crew has no choice but to evacuate without him.

But he’s alive! Now alone, he must learn to survive on the desolate red planet. His ingenuity is remarkable, and what he endures, and overcomes, is jaw-dropping.

When NASA learns he is alive, rescue plans are put in motion, none of which can happen fast. Big-brain scientists and officials work through daunting obstacles — and of course best-laid plans can go awry.

Mark’s plight captivates the world — and international cooperation. It’s like the nations singing the Coke jingle on a hilltop — hope about working together.

Performances

As stranded astronaut Mark Watney, Damon (“The Bourne Legacy”) is resourceful, funny, tough and smart.

His performance is virtually solo, and he’s such an affable guy, that you feel his emotional up-and-down journey. Damon should be on the Oscar nomination short list for this demanding and difficult role that he handles with ease.

His fearless crew — Jessica Chastain (“Interstellar”) as the leader, Michael Pena (“Ant-Man”) as the pilot, Kate Mara (“Fantastic Four”) as the computer expert, Sebastian Stan (“Captain America: Winter Soldier”) and Aksel Hennie (“Hercules”) as scientists — work well together. You only know them briefly, however.

As the NASA chiefs, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor deliver customary solid performances. Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”) has a nice turn as the NASA media relations manager.

What Works

The grandeur of the final frontier is boldly presented by director Ridley Scott, who gave us two other terrific, now classic, sci-fi adventures — “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”

But he does something different here — gives the story a warm emotional core amid all the scientific speak. When was the last time you had a lump in your throat during a Scott-directed movie?

His efforts are akin to an astronomy teacher who makes things fun and interesting, presenting the dense material in a palatable way.

Drew Goddard’s screenplay provides the depth in the material, and the careful way he builds the story, make this film stand out.

The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (“The Walk”) and the visual effects superbly evoke the sheer vastness of space, the splendor of the skies, and the dangers in our solar system.

What Doesn’t Work

This is an intelligent movie, and not dumbed down for the common denominator. Be prepared, class, and pay attention.

3 1/2 stars out of 4

  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena, Sean Bean
  • Rated: PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.
  • Length: 2:21
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