I am, too, but in a different way.
I mean, everyone but me in my group of science geeks and nerds has read The Martian, that book by Andy Weir. But I didn’t know the first thing about the book or the movie when I went to see “The Martian” on opening day, though I did make the assumption that Mars was involved somehow.
Having no preconceived expectations makes me a good candidate to review the movie from a geek’s perspective but without any “book bias.” Here’s my review of “The Martian.”
Murphy’s Law and “The Martian”
The story of The Martian is your basic science fiction application of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Botanist Mark Watney, played in the movie by Matt Damon, is left for dead on the surface of Mars with no hope of assistance from anyone for years. Only, he doesn’t have years of supplies and even if he did, everyone thinks he is dead, so they aren’t coming to rescue him anyway.
If one of us were in his shoes, we would be so screwed. But he is not one of us. He is a scientist. He is also a well-trained NASA astronaut. He has, to coin a phrase, “a particular set of skills” that make survival in the hostile environment of Mars possible.
So he does the math, and he gets to it.
And the science in “The Martian” is actually correct!
This is where the love of science comes into play, much to the delight of geeks and nerds everywhere. According to articles published on the Internet in the weeks before the movie’s release, much of the science and technology depicted in the movie is accurate. Andy Weir reportedly did a great deal of research to make sure his description of Mars and a NASA expedition to the planet was as close to real as possible.
Many of the machines, structures and tools shown in the movie are depictions of real technological solutions already developed, or at least contemplated, by NASA. That touchstone of possible reality gives the movie a plausible foundation which provides the viewer with a sense that Botanist Watney might just be able to pull this off.
In many ways, “The Martian: is like a sports movie where the audience is encouraged to root for the underdog. Only instead of scoring the winning goal or whatever, the audience is encouraged to root for the main character’s return to Earth.
The Martian is a slickly produced, skillfully directed, and well-acted movie. Because of his character’s solidary predicament, Matt Damon has to carry much of the movie by himself and he does so aptly. Director Ridley Scott keeps a steady pace and keeps the focus on Watney and his struggle to survive. Scott also peppers in some humorous moments to keep the audience actively engaged.
However, the real star of the movie is human ingenuity fueled by determination and knowhow. I can see why my science loving friends are excited by this movie. The use of science and technical knowledge to solve problems, whether it is to survive Mars or assemble Ikea furniture, is a powerful thing. It is a particularly human thing. It is when we are at our best and The Martian wants us to remember that.
I recommend The Martian with a rating of 4 out of 5 (Make it a 3.5 if you are not into science). If you can see it in an IMAX theater, I would recommend that too.
For aNewDomain, I’m Mark Kaelin.
All images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.