OP-ROB RATING: ALL-STAR
Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is an astronaut who has been left stranded on Mars. His crew presumed that he died during the storm that curtailed their mission. However, Watney has survived and now must find a way to live four years on a planet with harsher conditions than any on earth. Why four years? That is when the next mission to Mars is set to land. Back on his home planet, NASA must deal with the public reaction to the news of a dead astronaut. After some satellite pictures reveal movement near the HEB (the crew’s temporary base on Mars), NASA realizes that Watney is still alive, and the plans regarding a possible rescue mission are set into motion.
Throughout the film there is the contrast between relative simplicity of Watney’s survival on Mars and the politics of governmental agencies on Earth. Watney must solve complex problems in order to obtain simple necessities like food, water, and heat. Down on earth, the President of NASA, Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), and his team have to juggle the possibilities and consequences of saving Watney. A failed mission costing more lives could jeopardize the future of space travel; a successful mission could secure it. With the whole world watching on network news, NASA must perform a daring rescue; the only question is whether it will be completed in time to save Watney.
Not as fantastical as “Interstellar” and not as simplistic as “Gravity”, “The Martian” finds a spot somewhere in between. Despite what the title may imply, there are no aliens in the movie. There are no unheard of planets or ridiculous time travel theories. “The Martian” devotes itself to science, and the celebration of intellect. Watney must find ways to subsist in a shelter built to last less than three months, figure out how to contact NASA, as well as grow food on a planet with no water. As Watney jokingly records on a monitor, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this!”
Despite Watney’s dire circumstances, “The Martian” is a surprisingly lighthearted affair. The film is laced with jokes, and Watney is undyingly optimistic. It is this levity that makes “The Martian” so much fun to watch, and distinguishes it from other recent space movies. Notwithstanding this, I will have to say that there is one sequence in “The Martian” that is so similar to one in “Gravity” that there may be some copyright infringement lawsuits on the horizon for director Ridley Scott. However, despite this one oddly similar scene, the overall tone of this film is completely different.
Many of the characters, with the one exception of Teddy Sanders, mirror the optimistic spirit of Watney. Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) are both NASA experts who carry the slogan “no man left behind” and fight against the doubts regarding a risky rescue mission. This sentiment is shared by Watney’s crewmembers that include Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Rick Martinez (Michael Pena), Alex Vogel (Askel Hennie), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan) and the captain of the crew Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). Other noteworthy characters include the nervous wreck NASA PR director Annie Montrose, played by Kristen Wiig, Zhu Tao (Chen Shu) an engineer for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Richard Purnell (Donald Glover) a college aged wiz with an innovative idea for a rescue.
“The Martian” is a welcome return to space for director Ridley Scott, whose last space movie, “Prometheus”, came with great promise and little satisfaction. What’s proved in “The Martian” is that simplicity is the key. Scott manages to get the audience enthusiastic about the farming of potatoes, and the inner workings of a government agency. Behind the strong lead performance of Matt Damon there need not be any encounters with slimy, hostile aliens or a jump through a black hole. Farming potatoes in a space base on a planet with no water is challenging and exciting enough. “The Martian” is an enthralling story of human perseverance and triumph of intelligence; such a quality of film seems “extra-terrestrial” at the movies these days.