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Intelligent life on Mars; THE MARTIAN (12A) .....

Byline: David Edwards Film reporter

WITH its flashy special effects, $100million budget and deep-space setting, Ridley Scott's latest is being talked up as the sci-fi event of the year - an interplanetary adventure to match the success of the Oscar-winning Gravity.

Get past the hype, however, and its nearest relative isn't 2013's George Clooney/ Sandra Bullock two-hander, but an obscure cheapo called Robinson Crusoe On Mars.

Released in 1964 it's practically the same movie, aside from special effects that don't extend beyond spaceships held up by string.

The concept may be creaky but a good story stands regardless and this adaptation of Andrew Weir's bestseller is a clever, gripping and surprisingly funny crowdpleaser - the antithesis, in fact, of Scott's last sci-fi foray, 2012's Prometheus.

Just 18 days, or 'sols', into their mission collecting soil samples on the Red Planet, the astronauts of NASA's Ares 3 programme are hit by the mother of all sandstorms.

Believing their botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) has perished in the maelstrom, the crew blasts off only for their abandoned and badly injured colleague to recover consciousness the next day.

With little food, less water and a dwindling supply of oxygen, Watney attempts to turn the project's living quarters into a potato farm and use his scientific skills to contact mission control to arrange rescue.

While this is very much Damon's movie, stars including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean and Kristen Wiig prove themselves capable in supporting roles.

Much like Weir's 2011 novel, the film maintains a fine balance between humour, excitement and scientific credibility - even if the latter is now being questioned. Watney's experiments with hydrogen and oxygen

to create a water supply are believable and interesting, and if that sounds a touch dry, there are laughs to be had, particularly from a disco soundtrack courtesy of MP3s left by a crew member. Then there are the perils of running out of ketchup.

That said, lingering shots of the vast Martian horizon serve to highlight the enormity of Watney's predicament, his loneliness punctuated by a series of life-threatening episodes.

It all goes to prove there's plenty of intelligent life on Mars.

CAPTION(S):

From left, Matt |Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate

Matt Damon, |as Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars after a sandstorm

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 4, 2015
Words:380
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