Introduction to The Martian
I still haven’t read the book, and I’m honestly not sure that I’ll ever get around to it. I hear good things, of course, and I don’t doubt that it’s good. But sometimes a movie is simply a better experience for me. Anyway, in the spirit of the Space Movie Extravaganza it’s time to review The Martian.
The Story – Spoilers Abound
The crew of Ares III has been on Mars for a few weeks, and are going about their routine exploring Acidalia Planitia. Botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), seemingly intent on maintaining protocol, keeps his comm line open while he’s collecting samples. A dust storm approaches and threatens the safety of the entire mission, and while evacuating, Mark is left behind. Injured, disoriented and alone, Mark attempts to figure out a way to extend his food supplies by growing potatoes in a section of their habitat module.
There is only so much he can do to survive, and he knows that his best chance of success lies in modifying their short-range rover for a long trip to the site of Ares IV’s supply cache. During routine satellite operations, NASA’s satellite operations planner Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) discovers the evidence of his efforts. In disbelief, NASA employees scramble to find a way to get Mark more supplies so he can survive until a rescue mission can launch. Their first attempt fails, and when the CNSA offers them another shot, a conflict arises between sending him supplies and turning the Ares III crew around so they can rescue him. The Ares III crew choose this latter option against orders, slingshot their way around Earth, pick up the CNSA-launches supplies, and head back toward Mars.
Mark manages to establish communications with NASA by rehabilitating the long-dormant Pathfinder probe. With their communication lines open, NASA and Mark coordinate their efforts to stretch his supplies until the Ares III crew can make it to him. In order to rendezvous with the Ares III crew, Mark will have to modify the Ares IV escape vehicle to reach a high enough orbit. So, NASA engineers try to shave off all the mass they can. Finally, with all the pieces in place, Mark launches from Mars and through some (frankly, rather dumb) Iron Man shenanigans makes it to safety.
After his return, we see Old Man Mark Watney start his day at NASA, preparing to teach a new generation of astronauts.
What The Martian Did Right
There’s some good drama in this movie. Some of it’s on Mars, obviously, with Mark Watney facing bad situation after bad situation in the harsh environment. But, we also get some good Earth-based nerdy NASA stuff. In a lot of ways, this is structured a lot like Apollo 13, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, and there’s good reason for that, of course. It’s well-shot, of course, and the effects are great. It’s funny when it needs to be, inspiring when it should be, but that’s just what goes into making it a generally good movie. For specifics, see the big 3 below.
Part of what I love about the story of the Apollo 13 mission is the victory of science over adversity. This movie is, frankly, that on steroids. While I mentioned that I kind of wish they’d spent more time with Gary Sinese building the CO2 scrubber adapter, this movie really buckles down on the engineering and scientific challenges involved.
This is kind of a small thing, but I’m honestly kind of in love with the idea of Pathfinder being resurrected and put to a use that it was never designed for. That’s a badass little probe.
From a technical perspective, I think the pacing in this movie is great. They spend a lot of time in the early days of Mark’s marooning (maroonment?) on Mars, and right when it seems like it might get tedious, they throw in a nice little montage of the final stages of preparation for his rescue.
What The Martian Did Wrong
The Iron Man thing is just so, so stupid. I cannot stress it enough. It’s so stupid.
While I enjoy the disco (Gods, I love disco), I can’t help but think that maybe Guardians of the Galaxy had something to do with it. We see this kind of nostalgia-driven OST in a lot of places now, and it’s hard to ignore it. Too much of a good thing can definitely be a bad thing.
How many times do we have to see old man Matt Damon being cheesy?
I’ve heard complaints that there was no real feeling of danger in this movie, as if there’s usually ever any sense of it in most movies. On top of that, that’d be like complaining that you know the Titanic’s going to sink, or that the Apollo 13 crew made it back to earth. It seems to me that the thrill in this movie isn’t in whether or not he makes it, but how he makes it. Overall, I thought The Martian was quite fun, with excellent performances by most of its cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon and Mackenzie Davis really nailed it. It’s a great movie, and I love seeing the victory of a nerd over the elements.