The Martian

Want to get away from it all?

Your dream destination is…

The Habitat – sleeps six, isolated, panoramic vistas, needs some work. Away from everything. Lengthy wait to book and arrange transportation. Comes with a vehicle called The Rover at destination. Limited services available, and no on-site support staff at all. Key words – Bring your own!

Doesn’t sound too promising does it? Astronaut/botanist Mark Watney was part of a team of six (The Ares Mission) that visited this place. A sudden and unexpected storm whipped up, and Mark was hit by some flying debris. Not only did his fellow adventurers lose sight of him, but he lost his communications power. Not quite like a cell phone needing a charge – more like he was knocked off the grid.

As the storm heightened, his mates had no choice. They had to saddle up and get out of ‘Dodge’ ultra quick. In about the same amount of time it took Han Solo to say – Take us to hyper-space Chewie, in a flash of powerful thrusters, they were gone.

So begins, Ridley Scott’s The Martian. The guy left behind, was thought to be dead. Only he wasn’t.

What he was – was stranded on the Planet Mars. Mark Watney is played by Matt Damon in a bravura performance. Speaking of bravura, let’s also toss a similar bouquet at Sir Ridley. This is easily his best effort in years.

Like most of you, I don’t get that many opportunities to explore our solar system. The furthest away from terra firma that I get is the cruising altitude of what ever commercial jet-liner I’ve chosen to book passage with. For me, I can go half way around the world in a day and then call it a day while retiring to a sweet hotel with room service, hot and cold running water, and maid service. Plus a concierge downstairs to help me if necessary.

For Mark Watney, his help is only 140,000,000 miles away.

So there’s your set up. Tom Hanks was the Castaway on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. There might be a passing steamship, fishing trawler, or even a super-tanker on the horizon, but they’d have no idea about him, and wouldn’t be looking for him anyway. Or there could be a flight high above that might spot his smoke signals or make shift driftwood signage that read HELP! from 39,000 feet above him. But Watney could not expect to be discovered in a similar fashion. To say he was off the beaten path would be a misstatement of epic proportions.

He was in a sense up shit’s creek without a paddle. But a paddle wouldn’t have helped him anyway. As there was no water. He’d have to make water. But instead of a paddle he had solar panels. Which could be used to generate power. So he’d be able to cook via his microwave. Only he had just a limited supply of the remaining food. After all, this always was a bring your own.

But he was a botanist which in theory meant they he’d have a better idea than most about growing some stuff. And he have to get on that right away. He did the inventory of food stuffs (which were not quite k-rations – but more like prepared food stuffs in packages. And there were just so many remaining packages. Applying math in the form of rationing out his supply he could stretch it so far but likely not far enough.

Watney could or would ultimately die a lonely and hungry man. Or he could get past feeling sorry for himself. You know when the going gets tough, the tough get going. You have to remember that NASA didn’t recruit by setting up a desk in Times Square. Psst – hey buddy – how does interplanetary space travel interest you?

No, the people working for NASA were the best and the brightest. And that included Watney. Somehow, he was able to establish a comm-link with Houston. The very same Houston who was once told – Houston, we have a problem. At first it was rudimentary – like emailing still images across the infinity of space.

But like the song written by Pete Townshend of The Who that went I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles – it was about the kind of vision that requires hope. And with hope you’d need determination, will, drive, and courage.

So the interplanetary version of email eventually became texting in real-time. And there was light at the other end of the tunnel. Houston realized that their boy was alive and kicking up there in the cosmos.

Watney found the soil and he dug and dug and dug. Then he had to carry the soil into the hab where it could get sunlight, water, some homemade fertilizer (Use your imagination – I’m not going to spell that out for you). Soon Watney had himself a thriving potato farm. Which worked rather well until one day, by accident, Watney blew up a part of the Hab, and his potato crop was frozen out of existence.

Eventually Houston had to reveal that Watney was up there and need to be picked up. All the cards and letters from across the world had but a single theme – Bring him home.

But it was impossible. You can’t just pick up a phone and call Uber for an interplanetary spacecraft to Mars. By all calculations – including the red tape by the suits, the funding, the time to build, plot, test, analyze, assemble, and more in a seemingly endless list – then you’d have to add in the travel time which would be more than hours, days, weeks, and months – the likelihood was that Watney would be dead by the time they got there.

The Martian was a novel written by Andy Weir, and adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard, and I think that if you stop and consider that Alfonso Cuaron’s space epic – Gravity won 7 Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year – then take a breath and a pause, and consider that this is an infinitely better film – you’ll have a good idea of the movie’s impact.

There are no aliens, there’s no sex, – what we have is a ripping good story (Weir’s novel) and Goddard’s screenplay brought to life by a stellar cast which includes (besides Matt Damon) Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sean Berry, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

So, like Damon’s Watney, this time I will do the math – take a great source novel, a brilliant screenplay, a superb cast, and some jaw-dropping special effects. Then mix all of the above with humor, courage, determination, and most of all hope. Ask a veteran film maker like Ridley Scott to helm all of this, and give him a 100 million dollar budget. What do you get?

A film that has already grossed approximately 200 million at the box office, and you’ll have an almost sure thing to walk off with some Oscar gold on February 28th.

Simply – I loved this film. Rating five point zero.

Here is the trailer:

2 thoughts on “The Martian

  1. We loved this film. Except for the beginning when he had to do some minor operating on himself (both of us looked down or otherwise closed our eyes), we were glued to it from beginning to end. Great review, thanks.

  2. It was so nice to see Ridley Scott back at the top of his game and Matt Damon just crushing it across the board. I completely agree with you about your comparison of this film to Gravity. It’s far superior.

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