Space movies certainly are hot right now. 2013 brought us the stunningly beautiful and disquieting ‘Gravity’, while 2014 gave us the dystopian epic ‘Interstellar’. Both films grossed upwards of $650 million at the worldwide box office so it’s no surprise that the trend of space adventures continues in 2015 with a film to trump them both, ‘The Martian’.

Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name is a masterclass in refined storytelling and characterisation and the best ‘real space’ film of at least the past decade.

When botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) becomes separated from his research crew during a sandstorm on Mars, presumed dead and left behind, he must survive on the red planet using nothing but his knowledge of science and the resources he has with him.

Damon is perfect as Watney, adding levity and humour to a character who is quite clearly in grievous, ever-present danger. While the narrative meanders expertly from the NASA scientists on Earth led by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Watney on Mars, it is Damon’s scenes of him ‘sciencing the sh*t’ out of everything that are the film’s most memorable and the ones we eagerly anticipate.

This is of course also testament to a superb screenplay, absent of excessive science jargon and teeming with character-building asides. But what makes ‘The Martian’ so great is that every moment of suspense, drama and conflict is borne from its realistic, human characters. The villain is nature and Watney is a botanist; he fights the harshness of Mars with his knowledge of science, this relationship between man, science and nature being a central theme of the film.

The succinct editing at the film’s climax creates unbearable suspense but it wouldn’t work unless we understood the characters involved, and the stakes they raised, and empathised with them.

‘The Martian’ never feels slow or boring and it doesn’t need action to excite, only character. It is because we care so much about Mark Watney that we feel stranded alongside him, we feel all his pains and triumphs.

For all the billion-dollar-plus grossers of 2015, it is the modest blockbuster, ‘The Martian’, that shouldn’t be missed.

It truly is out of this world.

READ: Daniel’s Review

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