The Martian

I’m not sure if it is evident from these reviews but I tend to like stories about smart people figuring stuff out. There’s a lot of that in science fiction. The Martian is about an astronaut, Mark Whatney, played by Matt Damon, who is stranded on Mars and has to use his knowledge, experience and intelligence to survive long enough to get rescued. The book, which I listened to earlier this week on a car trip to DC, goes deep into the science. Botany, chemistry, physics and orbital mechanics are all covered in great detail.
Obviously if a movie tried to do that it would very quickly lose the interest of the audience and Ridley Scott, the director and screenwriter Drew Goddard, left out a lot of that stuff as well as several plot points. That’s not unexpected and is fine. The book is actually pretty poorly paced as an adventure story because it pauses to explain the science in detail. Even so, I found it to be a compelling read. While the film clocks in at over two hours, the pace never really slackens and you hardly notice the time. But I think I made a mistake in reading the book so close to seeing the movie. The film felt rushed to me and I was constantly comparing the plots.
Anyway onto the good stuff. This is a Ridley Scott film which means it is absolutely beautiful with sprawling landscapes and stuff floating in the air. The designs of the space habitats and ships look a little too finished and slick to entirely convincing but that’s a small thing.
His recent comments about female and minority filmmakers aside, it is hard not to like Matt Damon. He plays an engaging blend of smart alec astronaut, nerd, and every man hero, equally conversant with Cubs baseball and Iron Man comics. Not all of his jokes are particularly clever or funny but that’s realistic. You still want to have a beer with him. The role is not really a stretch for Damon, but he’s fun to watch.
There is a large supporting cast, all of them excellent but probably underused since the focus of the plot is Mark Whatney. Chiwetel Ejiofor is calm and authoritative as Vincent Kapoor, the administrator who leads the effort to rescue Mark. Jessica Chastain is severely underused as Melissa Lewis, commander of the mission but in her small of screen time she convinces us that she is the right person in charge on the flight.
As time goes by I suspect that I will like this movie more. I find myself thinking about it and that’s usually a sign that it affected me. In my mind I place it with other realistic space movies like Gravity and Apollo 13. My only real beef is that the book placed more emphasis on problem solving and well…a smart person figuring stuff out.


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October 2015
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