“The Martian” is a modern day western, set in the foreseeable future rather than a past that no longer exists. It’s an epic work without twists or tricks. Writer Drew Goddard created an excellent screenplay from the novel by Andy Weir. Goddard wanted to direct, however with too many of his projects green-lit at once, he had to find another director. First choice was Ridley Scott, whose resume includes the space drama “Prometheus.” Scott took on the project and pulled together some of his “Prometheus team”: composer Harry Gregson-Williams, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, editor Pietro Scalia and production designer Arthur Max. These experienced filmmakers created a believable and riveting story set in an imagined environment.
Matt Damon’s character Mark survives because he is resilient, able to improvise solutions under duress and, above all, maintains a solid sense of humor. Damon is able to carry the film on his shoulders with this role that has the same high degree of difficulty as Tom Hanks’ role in “Castaway.” It is reported that he was so in character that he nailed in one take an intensely dramatic scene in a transport pod.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said “The Martian” got much of the science right. The gravity difference on the smaller planet would allow the astronaut to toss 200 lb. canisters as if they were 80 lbs. The vast reddish barren landscape and other details are realistic. Only a violent dust storm vital to the story embellishes Martian conditions. The lighter atmosphere would not sustain such strong winds.
The all-star cast who form the astronaut team, including Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Michael Pena, are able, in brief screen time, to exhibit personality traits that would make them real candidates for space exploration. Donald Glover is fun as the genius mathematical engineer whose calculations can reverse impending doom – yet whose living space is so messy it appears ransacked.
Small touches mean a lot to humanize this film. Mark talks to his plants. He leaves a note on his “rover” for the next driver to take care of her. The grimace he makes while looking in the mirror when suddenly a staple that he applied to suture his own wound pops out. These are actions not vital to the story, yet hugely impactful in a quick second.
“The Martian” will undoubtedly bring attention to our space program’s future and should drive more young people to a career in science. The film shows that the most important concept in the unknown environment of space travel is the ability to think clearly without panicking and the ingenuity to solve problems on the fly. Indeed, that’s why Buzz Aldrin was chosen as part of the Apollo 11 crew to land on the moon. With a PhD from MIT, Aldrin could compute the math while in transit to guide the project back on course if a problem arose. See “The Martian,” if at all possible in 3D, and you will literally have an otherworldly experience.
Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com/
Rated PG-13; Run time: 141 mins.