Alone on Mars (Ridley Scott, 2015)
Director: Ridley Scott
Actors: Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan
Screenwriter: Drew Goddard
Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams
Director of Photography: Dariusz Wolski
Editor: Pietro Scalia
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox France
Release Date: October 21, 2015
Original title: The Martian
During an expedition to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left for dead by his teammates, a storm has forced them to take off in an emergency. But Mark survived and he is now alone, with no way to leave, on a hostile planet.
He will have to use his intelligence and ingenuity to try to survive and find a way to contact Earth. At 225 million kilometers, NASA and scientists around the world work tirelessly to save him, while his teammates try to organize a mission to recover it at the risk of their lives.
At the dawn of the possibility of a trip to the red planet, long exploited in the cinema in more or less whimsical works, more or less successful (which we must especially remember the very underestimated Mission to Mars by Brian De Palma 1 and of course Total Recall by Paul Verhoeven), Seul Sur Mars is timely.
Transcending the return to fashion of “hard SF” by a methodical deconstruction of a genre marked by the solemn, it is a playful parenthesis, optimistic and simply enjoyable, both in the filmography of its author but also in the face of contemporary Hollywood cinema. But it also marks, once again, the extraordinary talent of Sir Ridley Scott for his invitations to extraordinary journeys which forge his identity as a demiurge filmmaker.
Alone on March 1
Somewhere, we might have fun thinking that Scott was finally summoned to bring Andy Weir’s bestseller to the screen, detailing towards the end of his book “Yep, in space, nobody can hear you when you cry like a little girl ” 2.
It is, after all, a story that can only speak to him, an epic and intimate tale of science fiction, placing in its center a man who only wants to go home, thematic leitmotif dear to Scott. But Alone on Mars, it is also a tone that tends towards uninhibited, something lighter than usual with the director of Alien: the eighth passenger.
If his last foray into the genre (besides the excellent and forgotten Les Associés) with Une Grande année had proved very inconclusive, a film to be taken only as a vacation after the exhausting Kingdom of Heaven, he finds here a point of pretty remarkable balance.
Halfway between the initiatory journey and the fable in the form of praise for odds and ends, Mark Watney’s adventure turns into perhaps the most modern work of Ridley Scott, the most in tune with the times, and paradoxically, the most optimistic of its author.
Alone on March 2
The scenario of Drew Goddard, having probably so pleased Ridley Scott to the point that the latter postponed the construction of the suite of Prometheus, manages to shape a truly extensive narrative starting from a very simple material that is the logbook of the astronaut Watney, as present in the book (which Scott has moreover prevented to read after reading the adaptation).
Because of the comparison with the famous shipwrecked Daniel Defoe, or even Alone in the World, will have been quickly tempting, we must finally see how the writing ends up emancipating itself in a certain way. Deliberately evacuating melodrama or the other now conventional clichés of isolation (madness or despair), the story methodically deals with the enthusiasm of its main protagonist, each obstacle that not only constitutes its survival on Mars but above all, the task to the more enigmatic solution, his return to Earth.
Chaptered both by its phases on our planet and those two hundred and twenty-five million kilometers further, and at the same time by the Martian calendar (“Sol”) punctuated by the sound of pings of underwater sonar underlining the immersion in progress, the odyssey truly responds to real rigor in writing.
Only a few vagaries in private jokes or popular science can really be blamed, such as the sequence of “Elrond’s advice” a bit too heavy and clumsy.
Alone on March 3
Because beyond its sometimes rather wacky appearances for the genre, Seul Sur Mars is not just an effective adventure cast in the mold of a quality blockbuster. And that’s where you have to redirect the whole project to Ridley Scott and the ideas he transmits there. Questioning (optimistically, therefore, this time) about the salvation of humanity through that of a man, Scott describes a film where the system proves to be functional, something rare in his cinema.
This is the ultimate cinematographic parenthesis acting in echo vis-à-vis his other much more nihilistic works which testify, despite the director’s humanist inclination, of a recurring failure of humans as of their sclerotic and perverted society ( notably in Thelma & Louise, Prometheus, Kingdom of Heaven, Cartel…).
We still find there, at first, the author’s propensity to see his own world as clinical and mechanical, as elegantly photographed by the now faithful and brilliant collaborator Dariusz Wolski, in his cold descriptions of the universe bureaucratic hiding behind the space conquest, resigned to abandoning Watney to his fate.
Obviously opposed to this is the pictorial idealization of the Martian landscape, sublimated in its glowing and warm hues which contrast in a world where paradoxically death is potentially omnipresent, patiently awaiting the slightest incident.
This obviously brings to mind the same formal opposition that was found in State Lies, alternating the Western universe, greyish and lifeless from Russell Crowe to the warm one of Leonardo DiCaprio in hostile eastern territory. Scott later coveted the salvation of the space expedition through cooperation between earthlings. An element that is not trivial for a director regularly willing to film the destructive conflicts of the history of humanity.
Alone on March 4
Ridley Scott also cuts the perspective of his story through an elegant game on communication and the media, between NASA’s relationships with Mark Watney or his video diary, made cinematographic by some subtle staging processes, noted by the dynamic montage of Pietro Scalia (the latter’s work is surely one of the greatest successes of the film, by the way).
And it is perhaps by this relaxation of your overall tone that Ridley Scott offers a realization just as finished as usual, but this time more freed from the installer, grandiloquent or pictorial side that he cherishes so much, a heritage of Fine Arts.
Through his frames of rarely equaled composition, he obviously finds his happiness in the splendid Jordanian landscapes, the location for filming the scenes outdoors, made all the more incredible by the enormous work of native stereoscopy. There is no shortage of breathtaking shots (including these gigantic zenithal shots were taken from Prometheus), but they never hinder the film’s great fluidity or this famous relaxation.
And not only in the image, by the way. Collaborating again with the very talented Harry Gregson-Williams (whose beginning of the score of Seul Sur Mars, some notes of the flute, remembers, very furtively, “Hypersleep” by Jerry Goldsmith – elsewhere, Vangelis is also summoned), which revives here with the efficiency we know it, it punctuates above all its sound atmosphere of a band -its somewhat special.
Because yes, Alone on Mars, it’s a science fiction film where Abba, Gloria Gaynor or the Bee-Gees meet. But this relaxation kitsch is saving as if Seul Sur Mars really did well to contemporary science fiction. And after all, what could be more pleasant than the know-how of Ridley Scott punctuated to the sound of David Bowie’s “Starman”?
Alone on March 5Canceling itself, any comparison (very tempting for some, it must be believed) with Gravity or Interstellar, by its desire for anti-spectacular uninhibited, Alone on Mars carves its own counterpart of science fiction, rendering the vision of British director more complete and relevant than ever.
Exit the chimerical schizophrenia of the nevertheless fascinating Prometheus (which, as always, the author of these lines encourages to re-evaluate), Scott revives here with a clever entertainment of author, a resolutely uplifting blockbuster, which is not small say in a year when another septuagenarian did the same through Mad Max: Fury Road.
He signs here a remarkable new work of his great frantic run at the end of his career (which we still want long, that said), and which, we also hope, may be able to reconcile the director of Blade Runner with his public. Just as it is, for Matt Damon, perhaps a film of renewal, here brimming with energy in phase with the spirit of the journey.
While waiting to find the once cursed planet of cinematography, in fiction or reality – since now the question arises – he offers it to us here in its finest form. And finally, yes, we can answer it now: there is (has been) life on Mars, and these are not the spiders of Ziggy Stardust.