Finally! A movie I can recommend to just about anyone. The Martian has soared to the top of my (extremely short) ‘what’s out there right now that you really should see on the big screen’ list. It’s smart, entertaining, uplifting and remarkably accessible to mainstream as well as geeky-fringe audiences. Seriously, this movie has it all: it’s visually immersive, the stakes are palpable, and despite the science-fiction nature of the plot, the characters are relatable and – certainly in the case of botanist-astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) – worth busting NASA’s budget to save!
The Martian is based on Andy Weir’s best-selling novel that I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago but everyone suddenly seems to be reading. Typical disclosure for me – I haven’t read it. So I can’t tell you how the movie compares. But from the buzz among the crowd after the movie, I got the sense that readers of the book were more than satisfied with the big-screen adaptation helmed by director Ridley Scott (Prometheus, Gladiator, Thelma and Louise).
Here’s the gist: A fierce storm hits Mars in the middle of a manned mission to the red planet, forcing the tight-knit crew to run for cover. In the midst of a harrowing and dangerous evacuation, astronaut Watney (Damon) gets struck by debris, hurled off into the wasteland, and is presumed dead. (If you’ve read the book, seen the trailer, or been anywhere but under a giant rock in recent days, you know that’s not a spoiler). Turns out, however, he’s not dead. But he is stranded and alone on a hostile planet with limited supplies and no way to phone home. He’s forced to – as he says – “science the sh*t” out of the situation in order to survive long enough to make contact with NASA and hope for the success of a daring rescue mission.
That’s all I’ll say about the plot, because you really should just go and see the movie. It’s like a mash-up of all the best elements of Apollo 13, Gravity, Interstellar and Castaway. Matt Damon is the guiding star, but his supporting cast shines too, including Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover.
It’s rather ironic that of all the movies rolling out based on actual events and true stories, this one feels incredibly plausible, despite its inherent implausibility (for now at least). That’s because many aspects of the movie are rooted in the realities of inter-agency and government cooperation and discord as well as the financial, emotional, internal and external pressures that go into high level decision-making and risk assessment. Ultimately, The Martian is a feel-good movie about what can be accomplished when great minds work together, when politics be damned, and when a likeable guy with a MacGyver complex can single-handedly build an ecosystem and a global cheering section.