It might be just a coincidence, but the announcement by NASA this week that water has been discovered on Mars sounds too good not to be a publicity stunt by 20th Century Fox for its new sci-fi film, The Martian.
During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
By now it’s been well-established that the Director – Ridley Scott, however inconsistent he may be in other genres, has a true gift for science fiction. Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) are unimpeachable classics of modern sci-fi, and it certainly seems like Prometheus (2012) has earned its fair share of supporters over the past few years. And now, Mr. Scott is back within his comfort zone with The Martian, a vibrant, energetic, funny, fascinating, and altogether fantastic piece of science-based speculative fiction. The Martian is as of now this man’s best film which grabs an 8.5 IMDB rating.
Based on the equally excellent novel by Andy Weir, The Martian is about an American astronaut who finds himself stranded, alone, on Mars, for an inestimable period of time, with diminishing supplies. But the hero Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is really commendable and that’s what makes ‘The Martian’ so compelling.
Not that Mark finds a way to survive, but that he simply never gives up. Every mistake is met with brutal repercussions — Mars is not exactly a human-friendly environment — but no matter how bleak things get, luckily, Mark is quite literally “the best botanist on the planet” and he discovers that it is indeed possible to grow potatoes in his own poo. He keeps finding new ways to avoid death, for at least a few more days.
Meanwhile down on Earth we have a wide array of highly intelligent, deeply committed people doing all they can to hasten Watney’s return voyage — they’re just not exactly sure how to go about it yet. They thinf of sending Mark some food via unmanned rocket although it might not get there in time or send the crew to bring him back.
Damon makes the most of this “me time”, engaging our interest, winning our sympathy and teasing our anxieties about his perilous predicament. Meanwhile, his former crewmates wrestle with the guilt of his unexpected survival.
Let’s just say that, while Mark is indeed the only man on Mars, thousands of people on (and above) Earth are exhausting every possible option in an effort to keep the guy alive until a rescue team can find him.
It’s a remarkably simple story but screenwriter Drew Goddard does a brilliant job of crafting a believable premise, focusing on character over cliché, and building a palpable sense of suspense and tension with each passing scene. The Martian offers one of the most capable and colorful ensembles in quite some time.
The Martian is also loaded with great intangibles that other sci-fi/adventure movies don’t even bother with. How Watney is a hero not because of super strength, but thanks to his training, ingenuity, and intelligence; how, deep down, most human beings have a strong desire to help one another out when things get rough; and how science can be a huge ally if you know how to speak its language. This is a very big movie about very big ideas, but it succeeds so resoundingly well because it focuses on character first.
The movie also revels in the down-to-earth details of making a meal out of a potato when you’ve run out of ketchup, and the sheer absurdist pleasure of watching human beings outwit the universe with Sellotape and string. Whether forthcoming projects such as Alien: Paradise Lost or the proposed Blade Runner sequel will be half as entertaining remains to be seen, but for now let’s just be thankful that there is plenty of life on Mars.
Kudos to the entire crew of The Martian. Keep up the great work!! Hope NASA will not have more uncertainities after having a watch on this movie