Film: The Martian

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Title: The Martian
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chewitel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena
Seen on: 27 September 2015

I’m usually a bit skeptic when it comes to books made into films, but The Martian blew every expectation I had of it. I am very comfortable saying Ridley Scott took a great book and made it into an even better film.

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Matt Damon plays Mark Watney; Botanist and NASA astronaut on the Ares 3 mission to Mars. It takes all of 3 minutes for the film to leave him for dead on Mars with the rest of his mission crew fleeing the planet for their lives, convinced he is dead. It’s jarring, to get the main problem of the film presented to you as a viewer so immediate and sudden, but it makes you sit up and pay attention. And while the action from that first scene never quite gbets repeated (and it doesn’t have to!), the film manages to keep you hooked and invested and on the edge of your seat all the way through its long 142 minutes.

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So, Watney’s problem? The nearest rescue mission is 4 years away and he doesn’t have enough water, oxygen, or food to survive that long. His conclusion? “I am going to have to science the shit out of this.” Book-Watney is sarcastic, cynical, and sassy. Matt Damon brings all of that, plus his trademark dry delivery, to film-Watney. His humour and spirit draw you in and make you root for him. Watney’s unique approach to his situation lures you in and turns you into his personal cheerleader. That, and awful 70s music and Happy Days reruns. An hour in, all you want to do is hit Jeff Bridges’ NASA director over the head for even suggesting not going out to save him.

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Watney goes through several successes (“That that, Neil Armstrong!”) and failures (“I blew myself up. Because I’m stupid.”) before settling on the plan to find the last Pathfinder that was sent up and establishing contact with NASA. He succeeds and together with NASA, he hatches the plan to get him to the land site of the next Ares mission so he can regroup with them and come home. The base he works from is accidentally blown up though and Watney and NASA are forced to come up with Plan B. Plan B is still a long wait, until a stereotypical scientist (young genius sleeping in his office, drinking too much coffee, and unable to speak to other humans normally, played by Donald Glover) finds a way to send back the Ares 3 crew – now on their way home aboard their space station – faster. It is more dangerous and the NASA director doesn’t allow it, but the crew override the space station’s controls and do it anyway.

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The plan is dangerous, ludicrous, and just stupid enough to work. In Watney’s words, “are you f–ing kidding me?!” They weren’t. It involves the Chinese, a stripped down space pod (“you’re going to send him into orbit under a tarp?”), a few meters of rope, and a puncture in Watney’s space suit. It sounds too outrageous not to work. Of course they make it and Watney is brought home to thousands of people in the streets.Though I doubt Trafalgar Square and Times Square really would have been filled with people watching the rescue mission live on big screens if this were to actually happen. But hey, sci-fi, right? Some suspense of disbelief is always required and with everything scientific in the film all based on facts it doesn’t actually feel like too much to ask to go with the idea of Mark Watney becoming a worldwide obsession.

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Matt Damon is fantastic as Mark Watney. He digs himself into your heart so bad you want to cheer and gasp out loud when something good or bad happens. The Ares 3 crew, NASA people, and JPL team aren’t used enough as characters despite the length of the film, though each get their little moment right before the credits (space hanky-panky, anyone?!). Kristin Wiig is completely under-used, and the Chinese feel a bit dodgy for some reason. And the aforementioned gathering of thousands in the streets of New York and London (and presumably around the world) seems a bit ambitious, but that can be forgiven. The rescue mission gets a little bit muddled for anyone with less than a master in some scientific field which sometimes makes it difficult to understand exactly why something is so dangerous or stupid, but by then you’re so invested they could be telling you Watney would be saved by aliens from Jupiter and you’d just cheer them on. Ridley Scott did good, really good.

Rating: 9/10

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