(US - 2015)
Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Drew Goddard. Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Chen Shu, Eddy Ko, Nick Mohammed. (PG-13, 141 mins)
During a manned mission to Mars, a catastrophic storm suddenly appears and the crew of the Ares III is ordered to evacuate the landing site and abort the mission by Cmdr. Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is blown away by a satellite antenna in a powerful gust of wind and when he doesn't respond and his vitals cease to register, he's presumed dead and Lewis and the crew--Martinez (Michael Pena), Johansson (Kate Mara), Beck (Sebastian Stan), and Vogel (Aksel Hennie)--begin the ten-month journey home. But Watney survived, though he's been impaled by an antenna and has no way to communicate to anyone at NASA that's he's been left behind. With enough pre-packaged meals for the entire crew to last 400 sols (a Martian sol being slightly longer than an Earth day) if he rations carefully, he must find a way to grow food to last four years until the next planned manned Mars expedition. Fortunately, Watney is a botanist and uses his wits and ingenuity ("I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this thing") to grow a small potato crop. Around the 54th sol after being left behind, Mars expedition director Dr. Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and graveyard-shift NASA analyst Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) notice movement of structures on satellite imagery of the landing site, proof that Watney is alive. What follows is the thoroughly engrossing saga of Watney's struggle to survive when faced with one catastrophic obstacle after another, and the efforts of those at NASA to get him home.
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS in theaters ten months ago). Unlike 79-year-old Woody Allen and 85-year-old Clint Eastwood, two legends who seem to crank out annual movies more out of obligation than anything, Scott still seems interested in challenging himself, whether it's venturing back to the ALIEN universe for PROMETHEUS or going way off on a tangent with the inspired and insane THE COUNSELOR. Scott's hardly been skidding, but THE MARTIAN is his best work in years, a masterful mix of drama, humor (there's a great running gag about Lewis' terrible taste in music), thrills, hard science, and escapist entertainment, operating at a level of quality you rarely see these days. It's rousing without being pandering, and filled with baited-breath intensity, and emotion and sentiment that's earned and not forced. It's a crowd-pleasing popcorn movie done right, with a terrific ensemble whose performances make a very human and universal story rather than simply "CAST AWAY in space." The world comes together in plausible ways to rally behind Watney and his safe return--the Chinese space program even sets its own ambitions aside to work with rival NASA by contributing a necessary booster that the Americans have yet to develop. There's a certain element of "Nobody gets left behind!" but it's not a jingoistic flag-waver. Watley's plight unites the planet.