Ridley Scott’s newest sci-fi feature The Martian was released last weekend to much anticipation, and it had some big shoes to fill.
Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Whatney, the sixth crewmember of a manned research mission to Mars. During an unexpected storm on the red planet, the crew is forced to abort the mission in an emergency evacuation. During the storm Whatney is left behind as the remaining five crewmembers begin their return to earth. Stranded with a limited amount of supplies on a planet not fit for human existence, Whatney must now find a way to keep himself alive. With no current form of contact with NASA back on Earth and over 400 days until the next planned mission to Mars, the odds are stacked against him.
The film is an adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 best-selling novel; a book that many fans immediately fell in love with for putting the “science” back in “science fiction”. Suspension of disbelief is itself suspended as Weir dives into the technical details of Whatney’s rube-goldberg approach to survival. While writing the story Weir actually shared chapters online to interested followers of diverse backgrounds. It was the feedback from these devout readers –some of whom actually worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that helped Weir refine the scientific nuances of his story.
I had the opportunity to check out The Martian on opening night last weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t compare the two, but I know from my research that the movie definitely didn’t mirror the book in its entirety, but that wasn’t necessarily to its detriment. I expected the film would have a challenge filling in quite as many nuanced details due to it’s widely marketed appeal and limited time (despite its 2 hour and 21 minute runtime), and I think that was likely the right call. The result was an entertaining story with a moderate pace. The film included enough detail to retrench the suspension of disbelief but not lose the scientifically uninitiated in the fray of technicalities.
I had high expectations for the Martian and it mostly lived up to them. Ridley Scott officially achieved redemption after thoroughly disappointing me with Prometheus, Matt Damon convinced me he could be an astronaut despite my repeated objections to his portrayal of Dr. Mann in Interstellar, and Jeff Daniels showed us what it would be like if Will McAvoy left the news business and got into space exploration. I’m not sure Donald Glover was cast very well as I didn’t fully buy into his character or performance. I haven’t quite decided whether that’s due to my rejection of, or blind acceptance of, archetype characters.
Ultimately, The Martian is this year’s must-see sci-fi hit and it delivers on its promises. It’s a story that doesn’t seem so far off from reality these days as the gap between science and science fiction continues to shrink. One of its most endearing qualities is the stage in which it’s set; a world that openly and proudly supports space exploration. One in which the screens of Times Square are filled with live feeds from NASA. One where countries work together toward a greater goal. One we can hopefully look forward to in the not-so-distant future.