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July 08, 2024

The Martian: Movie Review

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Sand said:

Six astronauts tease each other on their comm systems while they perform routine scientific collection and analytic tasks on the planet Mars. Theirs is the third mission, and they know what to expect.

But no, they don't. A massive dust-storm drives them away from their daily chores, and threatens their Mars Ascent Vehicle, pushing it off balance. If the MAV tips, the six will die on Mars, for their mission has only a temporary structure, built for 30 days of accommodation. They hurry to the MAV, but Mark Watney is struck by debris thrown by the storm; his bio-monitor falls silent. The rest of the crew have to evacuate, leaving their dead companion on the Martian desert.

But no, they don't. Mark Watney is alive, and wakes to find himself the only man in the entire barren world. He can survive for a little while on the supplies left behind, but is there any way he can last until the next Mars mission arrives in four years?

The Martian begins its action immediately, and just doesn't let up. The images of the "Martian" landscape are gorgeous and still, evoking NASA's images from the Mars Rover, devoid of any sign of life. And Matt Damon does a great job as the abandoned astronaut. This is a wonderfully done film.

I found myself wondering what this film and story will do for the people involved in the proposed settlement on Mars -- Mars One. Will the people see the movie and say, "Hell, no, Mars means a sudden, nasty death" or will they see Mark Watney's various solutions as answers to tricky questions about survival in Mars' environment?

Another thing I really liked about The Martian was that there was not one word whining about the long journey through space. The astronauts were presented as being professional, knowing ahead of time what they might expect, accepting the rigors of an extended space mission, and continuing to do their jobs. That's how a Martian gets things done, even if he's only a temporary one.

Definitely a GO SEE IT! movie in my book.

Bernie said:

Okay, so Sand was insisting on going to the movies this past week, and she hasn't shown any interest for some time now, so I figured it would be a good idea to humor her, since she is the Editor. I mean publishing is a real cutthroat industry, and when you have an "in," you need to make sure the "in" is kept happy. I'm not saying that my relationship with the Editor gets me any special privileges; I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying that it's important to keep all your doors open, know what I mean? I'm sure that when Stephan King is not writing, he's out there schmoozin', you know? He probably uses enough butter to have it be a legitimate income tax deduction. Now I'm not in the same league as Steve, but if Sand wants buttered, I'm there.

Besides, I thought a nice nature film about martins would be a pleasant diversion. A martin, the European/African cousin of our North American swallows, is a cute little fellow, and should have made for a warm and fuzzy afternoon at the movies.

Well...as soon as the film opened, it was readily apparent that the subject matter had nothing to do with birds.

The Martian (and can you see how I may have been misled?) is rather the intriguing story of a man's indomitable spirit. It is directed by Ridley Scott, who has given us some really, really good stuff (Alien, Blade Runner), and some not so good stuff (Exodus: Gods and Kings), and this movie could go into either category depending on whether he misspelled the name of the bird.

Right off the bat, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets blown away in a nasty storm on the Martian surface. The rest of his crew members, unable to locate him and pressed for time to get out of there before everyone is lost, reluctantly assume that he is dead (or soon will be), and they leave for Earth with heavy hearts. NASA announcing Mark's death to a shocked world, and everyone mourns. But, as luck would have, Mark is not dead, just badly injured and alone on Mars. He has a habitat designed to last a month, and food enough for maybe a year if he's careful. The prospect of any kind of rescue is four years away. What does he do?

This is one of those cases where the story is not that remarkable -- the basic man against nature survival story -- and you know what the outcome is going to be, so there is a story that can be told badly and be boring. Fortunately for us, Ridley Scott and the cast of this movie assure that it is neither bad nor boring.

The pacing is fantastic. The drama begins within minutes of the opening credits, and the action is compelling throughout. I was reminded of Ron Howard's Apollo 13, another film about a space disaster. In that film, since it was based on a true story, I similarly knew the ending, but there were times in the movie that I just didn't know if it was going to turn out well. In The Martian, it is easy to get lost in Mark Watney's tribulations and wonder how it could possibly turn out right.

There is a lot to commend in this movie. The artistic direction is super. It is a beautiful movie to look at. It's like watching a travelogue of Mars. I don't know if it's an accurate depiction of the planet, or just the director's vision of the planet, but I came away feeling like I've been there. The cast was similarly convincing. The film obviously showcased Matt Damon's acting, and he did very well, but everybody did a good job. Was Matt's acting Oscar worthy? Maybe. It might depend a bit on what else is out there. There was nothing lacking in his portrayal, but a bit more character development may have been needed for an Oscar nomination. The character as portrayed was entirely suited to the story, but very much like Sandra Bullock's 2014 nomination for Gravity, there may just not be enough meat to character itself for the actor to be a strong Oscar contender.

The Martian, despite the fact that it was not about birds, is a super well done sci-fi thriller. Very well written, well acted, beautifully executed, it is well worth the price of admission.

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-10-05
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