Monday, January 04, 2016

The Martian (2015)

Ridley Scott's latest foray into science fiction could well be his third-best, after Alien and Blade Runner lo these many years. It's not as ambitious or interesting as Prometheus, but it's also not a mess. The model here is not actually science fiction, but more like rescue-at-sea action thriller, in the manner of The Perfect Storm or, especially, Apollo 13. Because it reminded me so much of Apollo 13, in fact, and because it's done so skillfully, I often felt like I was looking at something closer to a documentary. I had to keep reminding myself we haven't seen manned missions to Mars yet, let alone anything like the things happening here. But everything seemed extremely probable, which I count as a plus. The Martian is more science than fiction, with Matt Damon burnishing his uber-geek persona as the ultimate badass Bill Nye the Science Guy. Here he is seen using science to treat his wounds, to make water, to grow potatoes, to repurpose the high-tech gear, to do everything that has to be done for which he can think of a scientific solution. The science is thrilling—really. This picture is full of object lessons for the aspiring rationalist. Matt Damon is Mark Watney the Astronaut Guy, who is accidentally left behind on Mars during a storm. As his plight becomes a cause celebre back on Earth the movie swells to big emotional media-driven places, with everybody pitching in to help bring him home and people gathering in city squares to fervently watch developments together on giant TV screens. It's a unifying day for humanity, and for science, which is always nice to hear about. And it's as lucid as can be, as one after another scientific problem is addressed and solved for. Perhaps because I recently read a book about the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon, The Martian seemed reasonably realistic to me about the way unanticipated problems crop up and are overcome, albeit under a lot of stress. Maybe that's what I liked about it. So hip hip hooray for science, hip hip hooray for technology, and hip hip hooray for this very nicely done movie. The script arguably has problems telegraphing its surprises by being at such pains to hide them, and there are other minor problems. It's all just a little smug. But it's fast for its longish running time of 141 minutes and there are generous portions of hail fellow well met joie de vivre. It works fine and it's a lot of fun.


  1. Nice review. One of my favorites of the year.

  2. I'm not that big a fan of either Alien or Blade Runner--I can appreciate them, but that's about the extent of it. I was surprised by how much I liked The Martian, right down to the corny rescue.

  3. You know how people complain ab a movie not doing a book justice. I have a hard time believing Dick's original could do Blade Runner justice. BR is one of those kind of movies that seems to do what a book can't. The story is rote, a genre exercise, but Scott's 2020 Los Angeles is so vivid, indelible, dusky, gothic. Just as pure visual achievement it's unforgettable to me.