Help Is Only 140 Million Miles Away…
“Log Entry: Sol 6. I’m pretty much fucked – that’s my considered opinion. Fucked” – Mark Watney.
There are three important facts you need to know about Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi opus, based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir.
The Martian offers a rollickingly good yarn on how to survive on our nearest neighbour in the solar system; also, the curse of woefully-underwhelming movies set on Mars as featured in a previous Post has – for the time being at any rate – been expunged; and thirdly – and perhaps most vital of all – this blogger would NOT be watching the movie alone! In a last-minute dramatic twist, Mrs. B noticed the seat next to me on the big-city-bound-bus was vacant. She bungled in and paid the extra fare. We were off to Mars together after all, and this blogger was already over the moon.
Mrs. B loves Matt Damon; Mrs. B loves Matt Damon topless; Mrs. B loves botany. Yes, folks, my beloved has found THE PERFECT MOVIE. Watching Matt Damon – sorry, Mark Watney – fiddle with his seeds, Mrs. B pursed her lips in admiration. She leaned over, nudged me in the ribs and whispered: “I wanna go help him!”
Should have known she was going to say that. Don’t mind Brad: he’ll be Terra-bound, blogging away, looking after the cat…
“The Martian atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, so a Mars wind of 100mph… would only have the dynamic force as a 10mph wind on Earth. You could fly a kite in it, but it wouldn’t knock you down” – Dr. Robert Zubrin.
So, when Watney determines to “science the shit out of this,“ how accurate is The Martian’s science?
Or is it just shit?
The most glaring gaffe is the “fierce storm” – the integral plot device that causes Watney to be stranded on Mars in the first place. As the atmosphere of Mars is less dense than Earth’s, such a storm would be extremely unlikely – even Weir was quick – albeit reluctantly – to admit that.
One glowing review commended The Martian for being “one of the best thrillers of the year.”
What makes this movie so enjoyable to watch is the natural charm and effervescence of its leading man. After the hilarious moment when he admits to being a botanist, and (too) confidently vlogs about how he will grow his own food, there is no reason for us to get anxious. No suspense, no dramatic tension, certainly no “edge-of-the-seat” stuff here – in fact, his fight for survival becomes quite entertaining viewing. Amusingly, Watney’s concern seems mostly preoccupied with trying to cope with Commander Lewis’ deplorable taste in disco music!
“No, I absolutely will not turn the beat around!”
The biggest laugh of the movie comes when he experiments with making water by extracting hydrazine from the rocket fuel and burning hydrogen. He is – to use the hip parlance of our time – “pretty smokin'”; literally, the smoke is rising off poor Watney as he vlogs: “So… I blew myself up…”
No prizes for guessing that my little lady gave out the biggest laugh when that accident blasted him across the auditorium in full glorious Dolby Stereo.
“Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself… Mark Watney isn’t afraid to fly” – Andy Weir.
Having enjoyed the audiobook, certain classic lines have been omitted, but Drew Goddard has managed to take one engrossing book and write a rather special screenplay.
It should be mentioned that the second-best feature of this movie is the stunning location photography. Wadi Rum in Jordan makes for a superb Martian landscape. We watched in 3D format, which helped enhance our viewing pleasure immensely.
Personally, we could easily have done without any of the scenes back on Earth; none of the (underwritten as usual) NASA personnel had a fraction of Watney’s charisma anyway. At least one of us would have been satisfied with just Damon monologuing nonchalantly into his videocam for the entire 141 minutes.
Apart from the incredible storm, please spare me the young socially awkward mathematician who has (successfully!) plotted the best gravity-assist trajectory to bring back Watney et al within agreeable parameters.
The only other major gripe about this movie concerns the climax. Besides the uncertainties of getting Watney into orbit (in a coneless module?!), there is the highly improbable task of Ares III selecting the right course and velocity to catch him. The movie’s running time is fast running out, so the script simply cannot afford any more screw-ups, miraculously. A typically treacly Hollywood ending spoils it a tad, but nevertheless, its place on the Top 10 of 2015 list is assured.
Naturally, there are numerous nods to other movies: being stranded (Cast Away), trying to deal with the return to Earth (Apollo 13), struggling to grow food millions of miles from Earth (Silent Running) and even being separated millions of miles from Jessica Chastain (Interstellar).
Fortunately for Damon, it is a more wholesome slice of sci-fi than the bleak and foul-mouthed Elysium (not even Mrs. B fancied the idea of watching her fave star as a bald-headed cyborg); and for Scott, it is a (much) welcome return-to-form after the flawed Prometheus and misjudged Exodus.
To sum up then, The Martian is one helluva one-guy-against-the-odds movie – an exhilarating cinematic experience which can – and certainly will in this household – be watched time and time again.
And yes, it was fantastic to have nachos with the Special Cheezy Dip again.
Mr. and Mrs. B’s Verdict:
“Way to go, Iron Man!”