November Issue 2015

By | Movies | Published 4 years ago

Let’s get it out of the way: The Martian is a rollicking good ride, from start to finish. Yes, there is a lot of super-geek next-level science nerdiness, but is it enough to distract from the feel-good vibe of the film? No.

The Martian is based on a novel by Andy Weir and this is one of the few instances where a movie has improved on the book, despite the wacky ending. While the novel reads like a manual: ‘Mars for Geniuses – What to do when you are stranded on the Red Planet,’ the film dispels the overload of science in the book and gives Mark Watney (played by the boyishly handsome Matt Damon) something more to do. The roles of the rest of the cast, meanwhile, almost blur into each other; like was Teddy (Jeff Daniels) the director of NASA or Mitch (Sean Bean)? Does it matter?

The plot: The Ares 4 is on a mission to Mars. The super-smart astronaut team, led by Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), leave the Mars Ascent Vehicle to explore the surface. Suddenly, a storm hits and they all have to abandon the mission and get back to the main ship, Hermes. As the storm builds up and the team starts losing vision, astronaut Watney is hit by debris and his bio-monitor shuts down. Assuming he is dead, the remaining five astronauts make their way to the ship and blast-off. These, the opening scenes of the film, are incredibly shot, and though I knew what was coming having stayed up all night to read the book, I was nevertheless still mesmerised and scared for Watney.

And then there he is, saying into the lab camera, “To those who think I am dead, surprise!” The film then cuts between NASA and Mars, the action shifting from what Watney is doing on the Red Planet and what the suits at NASA are doing to bring him back. There is some science here, but it is easy to follow, reminiscent of a school physics class. Some of the most riveting scenes are of Watney attempting to grow potatoes in Martian soil, making his own water from rocket fuel, and then embarking on a long journey to find the buried probe Pathfinder.

My main problem with the book was that it was very unconcerned with the psychological implications of being stranded alone on another planet. In the novel, Watney is a happy-go-lucky astronaut who only deals with the survival aspect of being on Mars. There are no, “What does my imminent death mean? Did I live well?” questions, no soul searching. The movie improves on that, with Watney waxing lyrical on the beauty of dying, depressing though it may be.

That aside, the movie has an upbeat tone and a happy ending is almost warranted. However, the way in which Watney is eventually rescued in the movie is different in the book. This is where the film defies physics and is actually too silly to be taken seriously.

That notwithstanding, films like The Martian always incite a feeling of awe in relation to interplanetary travel and how far we have come in our journey of space exploration. The Martian is a testament to the wonders of science, technology and human endeavour, a new-age, must-watch film.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s November 2015 issue.