The Martian was left stranded without any Oscars on Sunday night at the 88th Academy Awards. Ridley Scott‘s science fiction film about a NASA astronaut (Matt Damon) being left for dead on Mars received seven nominations — including Best Picture and Best Actor — but ended the evening with no wins. Whilst films like Spotlight, Revenant and Room are brilliant, worthy films, their tough, downbeat setting is unlikely to demand a re-watch, but The Martian does.
Ridley Scott is at his best working from an adapted screenplay of Andy Weir‘s popular book by Drew Goddard that masterfully captures the unique tone of a man “sciencing the shit” out of his problems. The stranded astronaut’s problems include how to get a message back to Houston, how to survive for four years with just 300 days’ worth of rations until the next Ares mission arrives on Mars and how to stay sane when the only music at your disposal is Captain Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) disco playlist?
What this film captures is often lacking in worthy Oscar winners, facing extreme odds with a good measure of humour. The existential breakdown is replaced with a pragmatic problem solving approach. Damon holds the audience directly by logging all of his actions, thoughts and moods into a GoPro camera.
Scott purposefully cuts between, Mars, the returning crew including Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Michael Pena who thought him dead, the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The stellar ensemble cast efficiently gels into the tone of the film as realistic characters with no clear villain, just everyone doing their job and offering differing opinions about the best course of action.
The emotional clichés of love left behind are avoided and the expected element of sentiment quelled in favour of an entertaining pragmatic approach. Scott also choreographs an exquisite montage just before the big finale to the tune of David Bowie’s Starman. The only soundtrack misstep is when gearing towards a tense climax an Abba song does detract from the tension a little.
This is not a comedy, but has plenty of fun elements that seek to entertain including a star turn from Matt Damon. The Martian actively avoids blockbuster cliches and represents a type of film that is far too often snubbed by the Oscars.