It must have been ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS in development . . . development 1964 when that title was first used. Or maybe MACGYVER ON MARS, which is even closer to the mark. No? Well then, SAVING ASTRONAUT RYAN . . . ON MARS. And why not?, those three titles are exactly what this big, friendly hit turns out to be. What’s not mentioned is that for all of director Ridley Scott’s technical bling and production savvy, with a large & starry cast as NASA colleagues, everybody’s paycheck is all but entirely earned by Matt Damon as the left-for-dead spaceman. And it’s tough to imagine more pleasant company. It’s also hard to see much in this over-produced, over-extended film that Damon mightn’t have accomplished all by his lonesome on stage, with a spotlight, an open script to read from and a few slide projections of the red planet; everything else is mere window dressing. Director Scott, as ever, visually strong/all-thumbs on story, has little talent for handling the script’s try for swift & wild changes in tone. (Just getting Kristen Wiig & Jeff Daniels in the same shot befuddles him.) So, from the narrative kick-off sequence of a storm on Mars (a mess of information without horror or wonderment), to the pile-on climax (with multiple problems solved lickety-split on the fly), it’s too hard to swallow. More Marvel Comic than Mars Saga.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Why the buzz on Jessica Chastain? Once again, so earnestly sincere she’s a pain. (And did anyone else spend the whole film thinking Sean Bean was Eddie Izzard?)
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Considering how fit Damon had to get for this, is it any wonder he thought that now, after a decade off, was the right time pick up the BOURNE franchise mantle?