The Martian

6 Oct

The Martian PosterI would describe Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN as “infectiously hopeful”. Astronaut Matt Watney, played with irresistible charm by Matt Damon, rarely succumbs to the near hopelessness of his situation. It’s hard not to smile along with him, cheering him on as he proceeds to outsmart the red planet at every turn.

Damon finds support in an all-star cast in this bright bit of science fiction, including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, and more. As you’ve probably figured out, Damon’s Watney is the titular Martian.

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He is stranded when the Mars mission of which he’s a member is forced to abort their expedition and evacuate in the face of an enormous wind storm barreling down on them. Believing him dead because of flying debris, his team launches for home and Watney awakens later, injured and alone. He becomes determined to “science the sh*t” out his situation and survive until the arrival of the next Mars mission. To accomplish this, he will need to overcome his limited food supply and the overwhelming odds stacked against him on a planet unsuitable for human life. Meanwhile, those in charge at NASA become aware of Watney’s unexpected survival and immediately start crunching the numbers in hopes of determining the fastest, safest means of bringing him home. It’s a race against time and Watney will have to use every ounce of his ingenuity if he’s to succeed.

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It’s always a nice treat when Hollywood gifts us with some real science fiction. So many “sci-fi” movies anymore must deal with alien invasions, epic space battles, or fantastical pseudoscience. THE MARTIAN, based on the novel by Andy Weir, tries to be as grounded in reality as possible. Granted, this is still a big budget Hollywood film and there are time and story constraints that won’t let it embrace the full extent of the science behind the action but it goes above and beyond most other films of this nature. Seeing as how Watney is alone on Mars, the filmmakers used a series of video journals that Watney keeps for the duration of his stay as a means of delivering a lot of the exposition and the explanations behind what he’s trying to accomplish, whether it be establishing communication with Earth or growing potatoes in a blend of Martian soil and human waste. It also gives Damon, as an actor, someone to talk to, even if it’s to the imagined future viewer of his video logs. Damon spends most of his screen time alone in this movie and it’s a credit to his charisma and, again, optimistic nature that he pulls it off so well. Throughout the movie, we intercut between Damon with his latest problem and the NASA staff putting together their own plan to save him before his food supplies run out, with Jeff Daniels’ NASA director Teddy Sanders given the rough task of preparing a rescue operation under the watchful eye of the public.

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The crew

Sanders and his team have a massive endeavor ahead of them, but at least he’s got a great crew of minds behind him. Ejiofor is Vincent Kapoor, seemingly the team’s voice of reason and the driving force behind the think tank. Kristen Wigg has a minor role as NASA’s public relations officer, and Sean Bean is the mission commander who insists on informing Watney’s fellow crewmembers (who are currently en route home to Earth) that he survived. That crew, by the way, consists of Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, and Kate Mara. I wasn’t kidding about the cast; this movie is packed to the brim with talent. Ridley Scott has created his most entertaining movie in years with THE MARTIAN. It’s got everything I love: talented cast and crew, an engaging plot, and the sci-fi with an emphasis on the science. If I had one problem with the movie (and unfortunately, I do) it’s the final act where everything I enjoyed about the movie is set aside for a more traditional thrill-ride climax. It was also the only moment in the film where I wish Damon’s character would show a little more fear and uncertainty. The plan to get him off Mars in insane (but just insane enough to work, I suppose) and his continued quipping at that point felt inappropriate. But a stumble at the finish line isn’t enough to ruin the fun everything that preceded it. As much as THE MARTIAN is great sci-fi, it’s also a really good time and that’s what’s important.



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