Friday, October 2, 2015

The Martian

NASA's shuttle program was shuttered a few years back, and Hollywood has reacted to this by producing a number of movies that center on astronauts and their adventures in space; if you can't be it, dream it. And now it seems like space itself is reacting to the slowing of NASA, basically screaming at us to get back up there: "LOOK! WATER! COME! NOW!"

The Martian stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut who is left behind by his crew after they assume he was killed by the sand storm that forced them to abandon Mars before the end of their mission. At first Watney fears the worst: that he's just going to starve to death up there, since he has limited food and no way of contacting his crew or anyone back on Earth. The rest of the movie is about how he — and his fellow NASA scientists — solve those, and many other problems.

I read Andy Weir's original novel and, frankly, it was one of the most boring books I've ever read. But I will freely admit I just don't have the kind of mind that's entertained by math and lengthy — and I do mean LENGTHY — explanations on exactly how you can grow potatoes on Mars using your own crap. For me, the book was a fantastic story, poorly told. The movie takes that story, and tells it exceptionally.

It's fitting that it comes from director Ridley Scott, whose Alien is a perfect dark counterpart to The Martian. While both are, ultimately, about trying to survive in the inhospitable realms of space, Alien narrows that survival down to one woman having to figure out how to do that on her own. The Martian is about how even the smartest guy on Mars can only get so far before needing help from a bunch of other smart men and women back on Earth.

Unlike the recent Gravity and Interstellar, The Martian doesn't wander off into deep philosophical realms. Instead, it sticks to facts, problem solving, and science. And while this may sound incredibly dry and boring, (as it often was in the book), thanks to a strong and very humorous performance from Matt Damon, and Scott's veteran direction, it's unapologetically entertaining, with a pretty simple message: Space is pretty amazing; but there's nothing more amazing than the capabilities of the human mind.

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