This incredible film is based on Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, which is adapted by screenwriter Drew Goddard, who wrote many episodes of the television series Lost. It is directed by legendary director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Alien).
Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a member of a six-person mission to Mars led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). After a powerful wind storm hits, Watney is presumed dead and the crew has to leave him behind in order to survive. But amazingly Watney, the crew’s botanist, though badly injured, is still alive. Alone, he has to figure out how to communicate with earth and survive on Mars with minimal food and water supplies.
Watney begins a video journal where we see his humor comes through as we get to know him. We also see him using his skills as a botanist, and his ability to repair equipment as he has to depend on himself to survive. Note: while in the novel, Mark Watney has two Master’s degrees, one in botany and one in mechanical engineering, in the film, he has a PhD in botany and no engineering background is mentioned, though he is shown to have a knowledge of engineering and maintenance of the mission equipment.
Back on earth, NASA leaders, Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor from 12 Years a Slave) discuss how to handle the situation, assuming that Whatley will not be able to survive on Mars. They also discuss whether or not to notify the crew of the Ares 3, who are on their long journey home, and the impact of leaving one of their crew members alive on Mars will have on them, especially Commander Lewis.
The film is basically about Watney stranded on Mars, trying to survive, while NASA tries to get him back home. Damon delivers the performance of his career surrounded by a strong cast. The special effects are amazing, especially the landscape of Mars, which was created through a combination of location filming (in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red colored desert) and CGI (computer generated imagery). NASA was consulted while making the film in order to make the aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, as accurate as possible. The soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams, was powerful and effectively complements the film.
There is humor in the film (Damon’s dislike of the disco music that Lewis left, for example). There is mention of faith (one character asks another if he believes in God). There is some adult language included and one non-sexual shot of nudity, used to show how much weight Watney has lost while stranded on Mars.
This film is well made, with strong performances, particularly by Damon, but also from the strong supporting cast (Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Daniels, Ejiofor, and Donald Glover). It is one of my favorite films of the year, second perhaps only to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation thus far.