Consider outer space…
If 2013 was the year that brought us the science -light, yet impressive Gravity and 2014 the hit and miss but highly commendable Interstellar, then 2015 is the year that will be remembered, in sci-fi circles at least, for Ridley Scott’s Martian (The), crash landing into cinema land.
A director like Ridley Scott can boast an impressive back catalogue of films too numerous to mention and can therefore be forgiven the occasional downturn in form (Prometheus) and rightly still generates a sense of expectancy and excitement, particularly when he’s back in his element, exploring outer space…
Why then has watching The Martian left me with such an overwhelming sense of disappointment?
Let’s get this straight, right from the off: The Martian is one great big missed opportunity.
Mark Watney (the always very watchable and here, very well cast, Matt Damon), is separated from his fellow crew members and left for dead on Mars when a major storm disorientates them whilst out exploring, putting their lives in great peril.
Unable to launch a rescue and left with no choice, the remaining crew members are forced to flee the planet, abandoning Watney in the process.
Mark Watney however, is not dead.
Alone, many millions of miles from home on a desolate planet, he’s now got one hell of a situation on his hands.
This is where the film has a massive, great big, gilt-edged opportunity to cement a status as one of the great solo performance films of all time; a one man show; the monologue to end all monologues.
I don’t know whether it’s a sense of distrust in the ability of the average cinema- going punter to appreciate a different direction or whether the director simply felt that the ‘lonely man in outer space, figuring things out with a considered approach’ angle only had so much mileage in it before the natives would get restless, so, despite a promising start, the film’s gradual descent into predictable mediocrity feels like a real kick in the teeth.
Yes, a fair amount of time is spent observing Damon in his quest to ‘science the shit out of it’ (just a snippet from the film’s unfortunate, sound bite-heavy dialogue), by cultivating a food source, attempting to contact NASA through ingenious means and generally putting in place a system of survival whilst so far from home, that any potential rescue possibility remains a mind numbing four years away, at best.
To a point, Scott does capture an element of the loneliness and futility of the predicament that Watney would surely have felt so resigned to, and it’s this core aspect of the film that makes the early scenes intriguing enough, but it takes a strong director to stick to his guns when steering the enormous financial beast and burden that The Martian must surely have been – It’s not 12A rated for nothing – and sure enough, any early signs of promise are soon vanquished as the film turns about face, transitioning quickly into predictable, mainstream, contrived fodder; each plot manoeuvre playing out with heart-aching predictability.
As Damon and NASA between them attempt to come up with a rescue plan, the action switches back and forth rapidly between Earth and Mars, and an array of poorly drawn characters, natter away with badly conceived, plot-explanatory, cringe-inducing dialogue, a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ as they go with self congratulatory glee.
Any positives the film had managed to muster to this point, are quickly expelled like the rush of pressured air escaping from a punctured spacesuit.
Why oh why Hollywood?!
The Martian is classic what if territory. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, that would be an overly harsh summation, but it’s hugely erratic and any positives that it threatens to deliver are simply overpowered in a sea of cliches, contrivances, play-it-safe direction and ropey dialogue bordering on the insulting at times, in a film that is way too long and ultimately tedious.
…And it’s a real shame because without doubt, The Martian is an excellent concept left in the hands of an innovative and above all brave director.
Those were not the hands of Ridley Scott on this occasion.