Tuesday, September 29, 2015

“The Martian”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new science fiction drama directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian”, starring Matt Damon.


When an astronaut’s team strands him on Mars, will he be able to stay alive long enough for NASA to save him?


During a research project on Ares III’s mission to Mars, NASA notifies Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) that a severe storm is quickly headed their way.  When given the choice to wait it out or begin the return trip to Earth prematurely, she opts for the more conservative route and decides it’s time she and her team leave the planet while they still can.  As the storm intensifies in its progression, a freak accident occurs right before lift-off:  Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is thrown off the ship and blown astray by the storm’s fierce winds.  With no time to waste, Commander Lewis orders take off, leaving Watney for dead. 

Informing NASA of the incident, the head of the organization (Jeff Daniels) conducts a press conference to inform the public that one of their astronauts has been lost.  As Ares III makes its long trip back, NASA continues to monitor the planet and makes a surprising discovery:  Watney is alive!  Back on Mars, it turns out that Watney was able to survive the storm amidst the planet’s unforgiving atmosphere, but he’s seriously injured after a spoke from an antenna pierces his spacesuit and stabs him in the stomach.  Recovering, Watney uses his scientific experience and expertise as a botanist to figure out how to plant and grow potatoes to eat for sustenance. 

Once Watney and NASA figure out a way to communicate with each other, the plan becomes to send Watney some extra food while he is forced to patiently wait for a rescue crew, which will be years away.  Complications develop when his crops get ruined and Watney is forced to austerely ration food; also, NASA’s rush to engineer the technology to save Watney encounters major snafus.  When NASA devises a way for Watney to be saved in a much shorter time frame with assistance from the crew of Ares III, will Watney be able to outlive the harsh terrain for this improbable plan to succeed?


“The Martian” is immense fun – but it’s only good, not great.  A better choice for a space flick that pulls in viewers on an emotional level might be the Sandra Bullock vehicle, “Gravity”.  The problem with “The Martian” is that it doesn’t spend too much time worrying about how it can connect with its audience on an emotional level; instead, it chooses to concentrate on connecting on an intellectual level, perhaps to its own detriment.  In one early scene, Watney says, “I’m going to have to science the sh!t out of this” – and while it is indeed quite fascinating to watch as he does precisely that, there is almost a psychological detachment that results. 

The star-studded cast of “The Martian” puts in excellent performances all around and the screenplay’s dialog is both realistic and outstanding, even if the science behind much of it can tend to be a bit hard to grasp for those of us that didn’t enjoy the benefits of a STEM education.  While many of the shots of Mars may sometimes look like Arizona, Wyoming or New Mexico (although the true landscape was actually Jordan), director Ridley Scott lends the proper touch of The Red Planet hue as to give some authenticity. 

This particular screening of “The Martian” was in 3-D.  While it seems to make perfect sense for a movie of this nature to be shown in 3-D, there is precious little in “The Martian” that truly merits using this technology; arguably, it is put to better use in “The Walk”.  Ultimately, what makes “The Martian” a noble effort is not only its underlying message about the value of teamwork, but also that scientists worldwide (and in this film, China gives the United States a huge assist) are among our greatest heroes.  Scientists, it seems to say, are the ones that children should aspire to being.  Regardless of whether or not they become astronauts, they will no doubt enjoy a fascinating journey of their own. 

The Martian (2015) on IMDb

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