The Martian Ridley Scott

The Martian Ridley Scott
Courtesy of TIFF
"I'm going to science the shit out of this." That's one of many Family Guy-esque quips uttered by Matt Damon in The Martian. The Ridley Scott film, adapted by Drew Goddard from a best-selling eBook from Andy Weir, couldn't be summed up better: there's a near-constant barrage of one-liners (with varying comedic success), a shit-ton of science and a scientific ton of actual human shit. This is one hell of a weird blockbuster.
Damon stars as Mark Watney, an astronaut who's stranded on Mars when his fellow crew members mistake him for dead and leave him behind. Myriad crises follow as NASA fends off a PR disaster and attempts to plan a rescue mission while Mark struggles to stay alive on the red planet.
While Damon's affable enough that he'd probably carry the film on his own, the film also boasts a bafflingly large cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis and Naomi Scott.
That's a lot of people, and almost all of them talk in a similarly jokey tone. They punctuate scenes with curse words, razz each other for their music taste, trip over things, exchange knowing glances and call each other names. When we're not alone with Mark, we're in a world where every human being is in a constant state of flirtatious banter.
Certainly, the jokes add some colour to the film, but they also prevent us from getting at anyone's emotional core. When every interaction is on a surface level and everyone talks like they're warming up a crowd at an open mic comedy night, it's hard to tell the characters apart, much less get to know them.
The Martian is touted as a love letter to science, and it certainly is science that triumphs throughout. That means your enjoyment of the film might hinge on how much you care about science experiments on a micro and macro scale. One scientific trick Mark pulls off is growing his own crops on Mars (and thus colonizing it, making him the titular martian — yet another bit of wacky wordplay). He does so by harvesting his fecal matter and that of his former co-pilots, then mixing it up into a human poo paste that he uses as fertilizer.
It's one of two crass gross-out scenes in the film, the other taking place when Mark shoves a metal utensil into a gaping, bleeding hole in his stomach and yanks out a bit of shrapnel, shot in wonderfully crisp 3-D.
For all of its flaws, however, The Martian succeeds in being another big-budget space disaster movie with a fairly unique approach. At once a political disaster movie, a space comedy and, um, a celebration of agriculture, The Martian is at once charmingly dorky and exciting.