Movie portrays space adventure from a new angle

By Matthew Shepherd, ’19

Ridley Scott entered back into the mainstream when his new PG-13 space-action movie, The Martian, debuted in theaters on Sept. 24. The movie is a mix of comedy and adventure, with Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney cracking jokes in the most unexpected of times. When the script demands it, Damon is also able to be the serious action hero necessary in any science fiction movie. Any movie-goer would love this film for its humor and charisma, as well as the scientific and serious plotline.

Photo by 21st Century Fox

Photo by 21st Century Fox

After a devastating storm on the Red Planet, Watney disappears, and is presumed dead by the rest of his crew. The next morning, Watney wakes up, his oxygen supply dangerously low, and his abdomen impaled by his communicator. He struggles over to the lander habitat, or “hab”, as it is referred to by the crew. After performing self-surgery to remove the comm in the most bloody sequence of the movie, Watney examines his surroundings and finds his situation to be dire.To leave a record for NASA, we see Mark creating a video log throughout the movie. Early in his time on Mars he states, “If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If by some miracle none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah, I’m f***ed.”

Ironically, almost a third of the movie does not happen on Mars. That screen time is taken up by shots of Earth, and of Watney’s crew on their way home. On Earth, NASA, with big name actors such as Kristen Wiig as PR representative Annie Montrose, as well as Jeff Daniels as NASA director Teddy Sanders, attempt to save their lost astronaut. Mark’s crew, on the other hand, are unaware about their friend’s survival until four months into their return trip home. Once they discover Mark is alive, they go all-in to attempt to save Watney’s life.

The rest of the screen time is filled with Matt Damon and his escapades on Mars. He must create water and food on a planet where no one else has even attempted to grow anything. Watney creates ingenious solutions to his problems, at one point reducing hydrazine found in the launch pad of the rocket and then burning it to create water. Mark also must create his own food, and being a botanist, he uses the excrement of the crew to grow potatoes, later describing the experience as “much worse than it sounds.”

Meanwhile, Watney and the astronauts maintain a healthy and humourous relationship, always cracking jokes and poking fun at one another throughout the film. Even when Watney is stuck on Mars, he is able to make fun of them, especially with Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and her large collection of disco music. The characters on Earth have more tension in their relationships, with NASA Director Teddy Sanders clashing with Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) over whether or not the attempt to save Mark is worth the lives that they would have to put at stake. It sometimes feels as though these characters are very cliché, such as the nerdy astrophysicist being clumsy and slightly antisocial. The characters do seem to evolve over time, developing more complex relationships with each other over the course of the movie, and not always having static personalities, such as how we see Mark Watney losing some of his sanity after being stuck on Mars for years. Even though some of the characters seem unnecessary to the plot of the film, such as Annie Montrose, the characters were all smartly written, and the actors were able to portray the intelligence and emotion of the film in a believable way that makes the movie fun to watch.

For anyone without a PhD in Astrophysics, the movie does an excellent job of explaining the science in a way that is both smart and understandable. When Mark Watney is attempting to create water on Mars, a task that would be extremely complicated in normal circumstances, it is explained in a way that the audience knows a little bit about the process; just burn some hydrazine and you have water!

After seeing this movie, it is impossible to view Mars as just a big red sphere in space. The way that Mars looks gives a feeling of isolation and emptiness, but it does not boring or lackluster. There are huge mountains, and beautiful but dangerous storms. Even the inside of the Hab looks like it was plucked right from a NASA space station, as it is sleekly designed and filled with lots of gadgets and gizmos which Watney uses to his advantage. These sets make the big empty planet seem so lifelike that you could mistake it for the actual Mars.

The movie portrays a space adventure from a new angle. It is not the story of a terrified lone survivor barely scraping by, with his loved ones being unable to do anything. The movie shows the viewer a genius thriving on Mars by himself, waiting for somebody to come pick him up. The film is intelligently written, well directed, and the sets look beautiful and terrifying at the same time. The only problems holding this movie back are in the characters. Some of them seem very standard, and some just seem flat out unnecessary. Overall, The Martian is an enjoyable experience with smart writing and an enthralling story, worthy of a 9 out of 10.