‘The Martian’ a brilliant, intelligent space adventure

By Bob Bloom

“The Martian” is a magnificent and stirring achievement, a celebration of man’s ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Unlike producer-director Ridley Scott’s other forays into space and the future — “Alien,” “Prometheus” and “Blade Runner,” for example ­— “The Martian,” based on the best-seller by Andy Weir, is an inspiring and thrilling feature that is a public-relations coup for NASA and could reignite passion — if not interest — in the nation’s moribund space program.

It’s the performance of Matt Damon, as astronaut Mark Watney, that sells “The Martian.” Watney, a botanist, is stranded on Mars after his crew, believing he was killed in a fierce storm, aborts its mission and blasts off for Earth.

Realizing he is alone, Watney must not only devise a way to survive, but find a way to signal Earth that he is alive.

Damon’s portrayal is one of the strongest and best of his career. Damon is a

performer who exudes intelligence — and he is likable — which makes you pull and applaud for him as he uses his brain and scientific knowledge to create a livable environment in which he can survive until NASA mounts a rescue mission.

Despite his situation, Damon endows Watney with an optimism and determination that is admirable.

If “The Martian” falters in any area, it’s the scenes on Earth with the NASA brass, specifically, Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, who is especially smarmy as he looks at Watney’s situation in terms of the costs and the public’s perception to how the agency deals with the crisis.

Fresh off “Interstellar,” Jessica Chastain is back in space as the commander of the Mars mission who is devastated about Watney’s loss and even more guilt ridden when she learns she has inadvertently abandoned him on the hostile planet.

Abetting the story is the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, whose panoramic shots of Watney alone in his desolate environment heighten the suspense and depict the apparent hopelessness of his situation.

Harry Gregson-Williams contributes a score that is at times mournful, altering it with a jaunty flair when Watney begins to colonize the Red Planet.

The adapted screenplay by Drew Goddard injects humor into the situation and lightens the nearly insurmountable odds Watney must overcome to stay alive.

“The Martian” is one of the best movies of the year. It is a wondrous adventure that dreamers and doers, as well as those who set their sights on the heavens, can embrace and rally around.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

3½ stars out of 4(PG-13), for language, brief nudity, intense drama and some disturbing images