Thoughts on Movies: The Astronaut Vs. The Red Planet

Poster for the film the Martian, image courtesy of imdb.com 

The new film, “The Martian,” based on the book by Andy Weir, is a movie we didn’t know we needed this year.

A film that is part space western and part survival film, “Martian” is a blast to watch from start to finish with great characters, gorgeous scenery and a fine script.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty shall we.

The story starts when a group of astronauts of the Ares IV, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) are conducting a mission on Mars, when a massive storm hits their base of operations. Forcing them to flee.

While fleeing, a member of the team, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is separated from the group and with no way of either finding him in the storm, Lewis orders the rest of the group, Beck (Sabastian Stan), Johanssen (Kate Mara), Martinez (Michael Peña), and Vogel (Aksel Hennie) onto the rocket to return to Earth.

All of them believe Watney to be dead.

Surprise! He’s not.

Watney wakes up after the storm and realizes he is alone on Mars with only a few weeks of food supplies and some equipment to keep him alive but not much. Knowing it will be four years until the next mission, Ares V, arrives on Mars, he has to survive at least that long in order to escape the Red Planet.

Using his training as a botanist, Watney begins to find inventive ways to grow food and simple know-how to get in contact with NASA so that they can find a way to rescue him.

His activities on Mars gain the attention of Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejofor) back at NASA, with its director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) leading the charge. Also at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are a group of scientists tasked with figuring out how to get him back.

With the full resources of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory trying to save one man. It’s the most nerds you’ve seen on a television or movie screen, “The Big Bang Theory,” notwithstanding.

One of the best traits of the film is that Scott keeps the film simple and grounded so we can root for the characters as they take on the film’s main villain, which is time. Time is always appearing to be running out for both Watney on Mars and those on Earth as they have to mount numerous obstacles; Watney for one has to stay alive long enough to get rescued and those on Earth have to find ways to get him to that point despite being 33.9 million miles away!

Despite this Scott keep things optimistic, something that was adapted from the book himself. Watney doesn’t even blame his team for leaving him. Instead he focuses on staying alive which keeps him from feeling isolated. He knows that he or they will find a way, all he has to do is be alive if they show up.

Everyone brings their A-game to this film, from Daniels stern yet cautions Sanders, to Kristen Wigg’s portrayal of Annie Montrose, the Director of Media Relations at NASA was also fun to watch. She managed to capture exactly what Montrose’s personality was in the books. Other aspects such as Watney’s sense of humor, hatred of disco and the white-knuckled scheme for Watney to re-join his crew was faithfully grafted onto the screen.

While we can’t shoot on Mars, the desert of the Middle Eastern country of Jordan provides the sweeping backdrop of what the red planet is like. Its splendid isolation is heavily contrasted by the frenetic pace of life on Earth.

Just looking at Mars almost makes you want to sign up for the space program, just to get away from it all. Yet, I was reminded throughout the film of five simple words uttered from a girl from Kansas.

“There’s no place like home.”

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