“The Martian” is 140 minutes of screen magic

The Martian COLOR

Grade: A

Verdict: “The Martian” is an exhilarating adventure that will keep audiences glued to their seats even without seatbelts.

“The Martian” has one extreme factor that could have made it go extremely wrong: it’s the story of one man alone on Mars. However, “The Martian” is one of the best cinematic adventures of 2015, leaving its most recent competitors “Gravity” and “Interstellar” in a cloud of red dust.

While on a NASA mission in Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by a large metal piece blown away from a nearby communication tower during an unexpected and heavy storm. His fellow astronauts presume he is dead from the impact and the possible depressurization of his suit. Watney, however, survives and now must use all his knowledge to extend his food supply and remain alive.

Despite starting out as a one-man-show, the movie is incredibly dynamic. As Watney works to fix a problem, another issue is already in the horizon. As Watney celebrates being able to grow food inside the NASA station, he must find a way to stretch the battery of his solar vehicle to reach the spot where the next Mars mission will land in four years.

There isn’t a moment when Watney seems comfortable. This screenplay choice of piling of events causes us to feel the day by day struggle to survive. “The Martian” never lets us have comfort through the usual Hollywood-midpoint-happy-montage. It’s quite the opposite.

Inevitably, this situation would get boring or repetitive. Screenwriter Drew Goddard counteracts this by reestablishing contact between Earth and Mars. By showing NASA’s side, who wants to save both Watney and its reputation, Goddard avoids long sequences of Damon on-screen speaking with himself.

Damon delivers that screenplay in a superb performance, worthy of an OSCAR nomination. Lonely scenes are extremely difficult to shoot, since it requires the actor to imagine an entire situation by himself. Damon does it successfully. When planted crops die in a storm that blows part of the station open, death is imminent and we see it all in Watney’s face.

Photography doesn’t lag behind either. The vast, red expanse of Mars looks as beautiful as it is menacing and unforgiving. Although it isn’t as impressive as “Gravity,” the photography does much better at moving the story forward, while the 2014 film tended to lag in scenes that didn’t push the plot.

The soundtrack here is also a great surprise. Bowie’s, “There’s a starman waiting in the sky,” plays as we see the infinite universe beyond us. The rock of Bowie fits into these scenes, despite sounding nothing like we expect from space films. Instead of the dark beats of scifi, Bowie’s lyrics are mellow and cheerful. This contrast creates a beautiful moment as Watney seeks to be both saved but also hailed as a hero. It makes these scenes fresh, rather than just repetitions of old tropes.

In 1982, director Ridley Scott delivered a sci fi masterpiece: “Blade Runner.” This new film isn’t quite at the same level of his immortal classic, but it still is a magnificent piece of cinema. “The Martian” is one of those movies to be experienced in the theatre, and we will tell what that experience was like to our future generations.