The Martian: Matt Damon Sciences The Shit Out of Mars [Review]

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If it weren’t for the fact that our species will probably one day need to leave Earth to survive, I’d say going into space is about the worst possible idea.    Space is scary.  That’s because human life can only live in this tiny very specific set of conditions and space contains everything outside of that.  Anything with a non-optimal pressure/temperature/atmosphere/pH/etc kills us, probably horribly.  The Martian illustrates this point perfectly.

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During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney 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.

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It can’t have been easy to make The Martian.  With it being a bit science heavy, the research alone must have been a nightmare.  Just like going into space, you’d have to get it just right.  Not enough research and you’ll destroy credibility; too much research and you’ll bore the audience.   I feel they hit it just right but maybe there will be scientists who disagree.    Neil Degrasse Tyson complained when they got the stars wrong on the movie Titanic.   Imagine what people could complain about with this one?

The Martian got so much right though, not the least of which was the casting and acting.  Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean were great but Matt Damon was amazing.   I couldn’t believe how good he was.  The hallmark of a great illusion is when you know it’s a trick and you’re watching for it and yet your eye is still fooled.  It was like that watching him.  I could think what I liked about Matt Damon as an actor but then the slightest moment of emotional intensity and I was right there with the character- again and again.

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I was surprised by how good the writing was.  I wondered if One Man Surviving on Inhospitable Mars might start to get a bit repetitive.  It didn’t.  We always knew what Mark Watney was up against and his approximate chance of survival (none.  …but wait, maybe…)   and what he needed to do next.  I spent almost all 141 minutes of this film (didn’t realize it was that long) on the edge of my seat.  And the emotional payoffs were intense.  There were absolutely hilarious moments.    The movie’s message as well, was a good one:  there will be times in every life when failure is certain and at those moments you can still use your remaining time to look for a solution.

For a movie about an inhospitable desert planet and tiny astronaut living quarters, The Martian was surprisingly beautiful.  There are sweeping shots of vast mountains and weather patterns that are really worth watching for.  I also liked the hundreds of humanizing details in Mark Watney’s living space.

martian-gallery6-gallery-imageI kept thinking about the Kerbal Space Program as I watched.  For those of you who have never heard of this (I’m guessing most) it’s a computer game NASA sim where you build and operate space craft in a realistic physics engine.  Let me tell you I’ve killed more Kerbals than polio.  So with that in mind, Mark Wotney’s death seemed like a prolonged and tasteless inevitability because Mars is terrifying.  I didn’t want to watch this film and I certainly wasn’t prepared to like it but I ended up doing both.  I’d recommend it to anyone.

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