It might be just a coincidence, but the announcement this week that water has been discovered on Mars sounds too good not to be a publicity stunt by 20th Century Fox for its new sci-fi film, The Martian. The film is about an abandoned astronaut who has to find ways to grow life on the Red Planet in order to survive. But water or not, The Martian actually presents a credible premise that conceivably could be true eventually. That’s thanks to not only the stylish direction from Ridley Scott, who knows a thing or two about outer-space movies, but also screenwriter Drew Goddard, who has clearly done his homework in adapting Andy Weir’s book (a literary work tailor-made for the Internet age of distribution).

As I say in my video review (click the link above), this film is out-of-this-world fun, and star Matt Damon is a good pete hammond review badgepart of the reason. Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, who was up on Mars with his crew on a data gathering mission when suddenly a violent storm hits. Watney is sidelined by flying debris and thought to be dead by the rest of the crew. The painful decision to take off in order to save themselves is made by the commander played by Jessica Chastain. But lo and behold, Watney eventually comes alive and discovers he has been left behind, needing to fend for himself and defy almost impossible odds in order to survive. Meanwhile down on earth NASA leaders Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor are trying to figure out how to deal with this tragedy when they find out Watney is still alive and able to communicate from the far-off planet. But how do they get him back?  It seems crazy. Even crazier was the idea of making a major movie entertainment when your lead character is basically left alone on screen Castaway-style.  But that problem is solved as Watney creates an on-going video diary in which he often talks out his thoughts and plans. As a story device it works brilliantly and Damon puts himself in the Best Actor Oscar hunt by making this all seem so effortless. He’s alternately funny, charming, serious and smart,  four adjectives I would use to also describe this outer space epic that works on every level.

For Damon fans,  Ridley Scott fans or even  life on Mars fans,  this one has it all – the best movie on this or any other planet if an ingenious brand of sci-fi adventure like The Martian floats your boat. It’s really good stuff. The new Star Wars has been getting all the hype as far as outer space movies go these days, but this flick means that much-awaited J.J. Abrams epic has even more to live up to.

Damon really lights up the screen in this role, giving it a wry twist that makes Watney so likeable and memorable. Chastain, back in a space epic so soon after last year’s Interstellar, is totally believable as the steerer of this ship. Her crew, including Michael Pena and Kate Mara, are well cast too. Daniels gives a steely authority to the head of NASA  as does Ejiofor as director of the Mars Mission who has his own ideas about how to get Watney back to earth. Kristen Wiig turns up in a role against type as the nervous head of media relations who must find a way to get the most credible story out to the public.

Unlike some other Scott-directed sci-fi entries like Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus, there is a much lighter tone to this one despite the dire circumstances Damon’s Watney finds himself in. The Mars bar has been set high with this clever and engaging film. Producers are Scott, Mark Huffam, Simon Kinberg, Michael Schaefer and Aditya Sood. 20th Century Fox releases the film today and I predict a smash hit.

Do you plan to see The Martian? Let us know what you think.