Yes this is another Ridley Scott space movie. The signs abound. There are scenes where an astronaut is forced into a spot of self-surgery. There's another where the woman in charge straps herself into a spacesuit ahead of a life or and death mission and looks deeply sexy doing it.

And there are things growing in rows on a distant planet that might not be good for you.

But this isn't Alien or its distant relative, Prometheus. This is The Martian, the veteran director's tight adaptation of Andy Weir's bestseller about an astronaut who is left behind on a Mars mission and must fend for himself with what Nasa left behind and his own multidisciplinary smarts.

So it's not the great leap into the future of Scott's other sci-fi films but more of an extrapolation of where 21st space tech could get us - and quite fascinating for it - though Scott has fudged some of the scientific attention to detail of Weir's convincing book to keep things moving along.

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And the perils Matt Damon's Mark Watney faces aren't quite as many as they were on the page.

But this is still a riveting thriller-cum-astrophysics lesson, helped by an immensely engaging, largely solo performance by Damon as the guy left for dead when his mission is ordered home during a cataclysmic sandstorm.

After letting his Robinson Crusoe status sink in, the movie is soon swinging between Watney on Mars' Acidalia Planitia and Houston where they have all sorts of problems after realising the guy is still alive: Do they tell the rest of his crew? Do they tell the world? Has anyone got a spare rocket so we can send him a care package?

Matt Damon does a spot of gardening in The Martian (Fox).
Matt Damon does a spot of gardening in The Martian (Fox).

But botanist-engineer Watney is soon doing okay for himself. Those real potatoes Nasa packed for the mission's Thanksgiving dinner - nice touch, if you think about it - are soon germinating in a mix of Martian dirt and astronaut manure (the aforementioned things growing in rows).

He's soon figured out a way to communicate with Houston via a bit of 20th century tech left abandoned up the road.

Matt Damon as abandoned astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian (Fox)
Matt Damon as abandoned astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian (Fox)

Though Damon is in fine form, the Nasa team at home aren't exactly as credible as those Apollo 13 dudes.

As head of Nasa, Jeff Daniels still sounds and looks like the news anchor he played on The Newsroom, while the geek genius who figures out a viable rescue mission seems to have wandered in from The Big Bang Theory.

Still, it's a movie of the future and of its time, too. Anyone with a Fitbit will be impressed with the Nasa gadgets monitoring everything in Watney's risky existence. He's the ultimate Quantified Self.

And Watney sure has a way of trolling Houston when he doesn't get an answer that he likes. That humour helps make The Martian stay entertaining as it heads towards earnestness and occasional outbursts of rah-rah.

It's really enjoyable for all its hefty time on screen.

Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Alex Vogel in a scene from The Martian. (Fox)
Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Alex Vogel in a scene from The Martian. (Fox)

The many supporting characters - including Watney's comrades on the spaceship commanded by Jessica Chastain, she of the sexy spacesuit - mean that Watney's epic loneliness is never quite evoked. This doesn't quite hit the same spots as its immediate 3D space epic forebear, Gravity.

Still, the Jordan landscapes and camera filters Scott uses to depict the Mars surface certainly make The Martian feel you're a long, long way from home in a movie that reminds sometimes it just is rocket science.

Verdict: The interplanetary tech geek gardening thriller of the year.


Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
Director: Ridley Scott
Rating: M
Running time: 141 mins