THE MARTIAN (PG-13)

DAMON NAILS IT AS ASTRONAUT EXTRAORDINAIRE


It was a giant thrill to watch Damon helm the lead role in Ridley Scot's latest space excursion The MartianDamon is one of the best and most versatile American actors on the Hollywood playing field today, yet I couldn't quite wrap my mind around him as an astronaut, But, the US audience knows a good movie when it sees one, and box office receipts don't tell lies. So I waited until the second week before wandering into a packed-out auditorium to watch Mr. Damon strut his stuff on Mars - and strut he did.

As the story goes, a 4-man mission to the red planet is cut short by a major dust storm forcing the mission's forfeiture. In their hasty departure, the crew unwittingly leaves behind Astronaut Mark Whatney (Damon), whom they presume dead from the astronomic event. 

As Earth mourns the stunning loss of one of its finest astronauts, Watney realizes that his life depends solely on his personal survival skills, and he wastes no time putting every ounce of his training and scientific knowledge into improvisational hyper-drive.

Damon gets a good grasp on the Whatney character that he plays with an almost bittersweet, but mesmerizing humor. It is a lightheartedness that belies the perils of his underlying circumstances and enables him to maintain his morale in the face of impossible odds. He cleverly plays off Go-Pro cameras scattered throughout his planetary compound with a bravado that moves the story, while dispersing the heavy suspense that usually plagues space stranded dramas.

The Martian is adapted from the 2011 freshman novel by Andy Weir with an attention grabbing opening that fascinates from beginning-end. The film's supporting cast is rounded out by some of Hollywood's busiest; Kristen Wiig (Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Kate Mara (The Fantastic Four), and Michael Pena (Ant Man). Jeff Daniels plays the Director of NASA who must make the tough calls about any rescue attempts, and the cast is completed with the power-packed talents of British thespian Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012), and multiple award nominee Jessica Chastain.

Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) plays Commander Melissa Lewis, who was forced to abandon the mission leaving Whatney behind. Ejiofor plays Vince Kapoor the NASA space genius consultant determined to figure out a way back to Earth for the stranded astronaut. And, as far as I'm concerned, Ejiofor could read the yellow pages on camera and it would be well worth the watch. Of course this was no 12 Years a Slave, but the guy's gotta eat between Oscar nominations

The Martian's runaway success is the third space film of recent times (since Intersellar and Gravity) that has served to almost restore Hollywood's confidence in the space action-adventure genre that was so maligned by much touted big-screen flops John Carter and Tomorrowland. Here was a plausible story backed with real NASA research, combined with a down-to-earth character, that though predictable at times, was saved by Damon's charm, bodaciousness, and an intriguing story. I also predict that the best one-liner in the film will doubtless be repeated for years in spoofs and endless comedy routines. 

British director Ridley Scott (Sir. Scott if you please), is no stranger to the science fiction genre, with mega successes like Alien (1979) Blade Runner (1982), and Prometheus (2012) under his belt. Scott admitted to Space.com that although he was a disaster at science in school, he has remained fascinated by it, and wanted to make a smart space film that would entertain audiences, and fill theater seats. He succeeded. The Martian is smart, engaging and entertains the s__t out of you from the opening scenes until the credits roll. Now, I'd say that that is what makes for a blockbuster movie that says "cha-ching" all the way into the coffers of 20th Century Fox.







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