Written by: The Editor
When humanity finally gets its act together and sends astronauts to Mars, we can only hope the mission is as cool — and our explorers as noble, smart and brave — as those in “The Martian.”
Director Ridley Scott does here what he has always done, from “Alien” to “Blade Runner” to “Gladiator”: He creates a fully realized film universe, then populates it with great actors playing fascinating characters doing astonishing things.
In “The Martian,” Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield,” “The Cabin in the Woods”) adapt Andy Weir’s science-fiction novel into a perfectly paced survival thriller that is as riveting as it is technologically authentic.
In the film, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a crew sent to Mars. (Other members are Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara.) A storm hits and Watney is struck by debris that appears to kill him. The crew reluctantly aborts and blasts off. Then Watney wakes up amid the rusty red dust of Mars and wonders where everybody went. The NASA brass in Houston (boss Jeff Daniels and scientist Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrange a funeral — there’s no grieving family — before receiving word from Watney that he isn’t dead after all.
In an era of science fiction films being alarmingly sparse on science, it’s also a wonderful tale of scientific adventure, of the revenge of the nerds. As Watney puts it early in his stay on Mars, the only way he’s going to be able to survive is to do all he can. Go Einstein & Steven Hawkins on it! And we’re rooting for him as he invents solutions to the problems he confronts and overcomes the failures that ensue.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, NASA satellite photo analyst Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) notices an aberration and after bringing it to the attention of her supervisor, Vincent Kapoor (a splendid Chiwetel Ejiofor), they realize that Watney isn’t dead. But NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) has a dilemma when he learns the truth: do they share the news with the world if there’s a much greater chance of him dying before they can rescue him? More to the point, Lewis and her ARES III crew of Martinez (Michael Peña), Johanssen (Kate Mara), Vogel (Aksel Hennie) and Beck (Sebastian Stan) are traveling back to Earth under the shadow of Watney’s death: Does Sanders tell them he’s alive? Ares Mission Commander Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) certainly thinks so.
The book by Andy Weir was a surprise hit and excellent read, fast-paced, meaty and thoughtful, with a surprising amount of humor. That humor has been retained in a very faithful translation of the book to the big screen by experienced director Ridley Scott.
There’s also something very “Robinson Crusoe” about the tale of ‘The Martian’ too, a satisfying hero’s journey of a man facing the elements and having to rely on his wits and ingenuity to survive. It’s one heck of a tale and has become a really great movie, incredibly entertaining, funny as heck at many points, and quite exciting even thru the last few minutes.