Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel The Martian is about a stranded astronaut, accidentally abandoned by his crew on the red planet, who must find a way to survive using the limited resources around him until help can come from back home on Earth (nearly one year’s worth of travelling away). Luckily, botanical astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is good-humoured, inventive, and has a strong will to live. He focuses on finding solutions instead of wallowing in the bleak impossibility of his predicament. Quickly, Watney begins by assessing his situation: taking stock of food, calculating how long he can last with what he has, and figuring out how to expand his resources. Before long, he’s got a plan, and with cleverly reopened communications with NASA giving him the collective brainpower of scientists across the globe, he may just survive what no one has ever faced before.
The Martian hits all the right marks for an entertaining blockbuster: a likeable hero, high stakes on Mars and on Earth, stunning vistas, and an all-star cast including Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, and a few up-and-comers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Screenwriter Drew Goddard infuses plenty of humour from the book into the script. Watney is usually irreverent, often complaining about the terrible music he has access to as he announces to his many GoPro cameras what he is doing and what he is thinking, both for scientific documentation and to keep himself sane. On Earth, one funny, meta moment stands out in particular as a JPL employee played by a geeky Donald Glover presents Project Elrond to NASA. (Are filmmakers allowed to make a Lord of the Rings movie reference with Sean Bean in the scene? Is it a spoiler to mention that he doesn’t die in this movie?) For science lovers, there are plenty of smart solutions to unique, outer space problems and an awareness of the realities of living on Mars. The limited resources and knowledge of what can be done with them creates a brilliant, realistic, closed-system puzzle that is slowly solved with science and ingenuity. Back on Earth, NASA must handle the messiness of PR, getting the right science down, meeting increasingly shorter deadlines, and making difficult moral decisions all in the quest to save Watney. The humanity of the story gets handled on both planets. All things considered, The Martian reaches for the stars and lands firmly on Mars.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 microwaved potatoes