Archetypal man gone stranded story, but it has some cool basic science and is well-paced. The Martian continues a trend of outer space adventures, but unlike the complex artistry of “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” this one by director Ridley Scott is merely trying to be a grown-up popcorn picture. Enough smarts to keep it interesting, likeable for sure, and knowingly predictable. We’ve seen enough movies to predict what’s going to happen to Matt Damon at every screenplay checkpoint.
I pondered for a few moments that it is likely in my lifetime that I’ll witness astronauts exploring the soil of Mars at some point. To actually make it vegetative as well as the surroundings inhabitable is another story, in which we are far off. In the opening scenes, a crew of scientists are collecting samples until a storm interrupts them. While Mark Watney (Damon) gets hit with some harsh debris, the others evacuate to their ship to escape, and blast off into the sky before any further structural damage is made.
The crew, spearheaded by captain Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, in a stock role), believe that Mark’s spacesuit was breached and that if he didn’t die from the head injuries he had to have died from oxygen deprivation. Wrong. But it takes thirty-five days at least for a NASA satellite to notice he has survived. Mark can ration, but he eventually will run out of food unless he harvests his own vegetable garden. I liked how Mark recycles astronaut fecal waste to make fertilizer.
That seems to be the most memorable detail other than the disco music – Mark’s only available music – that saturates the soundtrack.
Back on Earth, there are a number of NASA directors and scientists that debate over available rescue missions. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s, the head of missions, and Benedict Wong, a rocket scientist, are the most impressive tech-heads (they give the better performances). Jeff Daniels, as NASA director Teddy Sanders, seems to only want to hatch the rescue mission because it’s a necessary PR move – if he loses Mark, then Congress will cut funding. There are a number of other small players, some distinguishable and some negligible. In short, they solve a number of problems so they can get another rocket up in the sky.
Damon, charismatic as always, supposedly gets a chance with this role to continue a long line of tradition of men on their own battling cabin fever. Tom Hanks fought temporary insanity memorably in “Cast Away” and Robert Redford did it recently in “All is Lost.” But besides growing feral hair and his body double going gaunt, there’s not much depths of despairs to Mark Watney – he’s an awful lot like Damon’s signature character Good Will Hunting. But I don’t think the filmmakers were that concerned with going that deep into the abyss of Mark’s desolation. Mark goes just a tad nuts, but it seemed a priority of the storytellers to ensure he’s still likeable.
I stayed engrossed by the technospeak, the hardware, the convincing set decoration of NASA facilities, the red Monument Valley landscapes (it’s actually filmed in Jordan), the outer space shots, and then, for at least one time greatly involved in its best scene – the outer space docking of two space crafts and one astronaut stringing in space on a tether. I enjoyed my time spent at “The Martian” and can see why it’s instant popular entertainment so don’t get me wrong. But if I am allowed to be a bit of a miser for a moment, I think Scott’s previous sci-fi flick “Prometheus” was far more visionary and tough.
141 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ACTION-DRAMA / INSPIRATIONAL / SPACE-OUT WEEKEND