OK, I know I’ve been lax about keeping this blog updated, but this movie inspired me to try to get back into it. The Martian (IMDB) is a very impressive movie. If possible try to see it while it is still in the theaters. Mars will not look nearly as impressive on a small screen.
This story of an astronaut (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars combines amazing technical verisimilitude with a surprising amount of humor. Of course it’s mostly laid-back astronaut humor, laughing in the face of danger and all that. But the overall effect is charming. The characters are quite likable. (That’s important since a story like this could easily turn into an exercise in checking off plot points.)
There are some obvious similarities to 1995’s Apollo 13 (IMDB) but that was based on actual events while The Martian is fiction, which allows it to go a bit more over-the-top. One may debate whether real people would act the way the characters do, and in some cases whether they should do so.
At the midpoint some characters are faced with a difficult ethical dilemma and as a result…let’s just say that NASA insisted on a disclaimer in the credits which says that while NASA provided technical advice they do not necessarily endorse the actions of the characters. Still from a story-telling standpoint it works. The alternative scenarios that come to mind seem either less plausible, duller or just something nobody would want to watch. (E.g. nobody would pay to see the hero die alone on Mars, and it would be boring if the attempt to rescue him went off as planned without a hitch.)
It’s rare for a science fiction movie to try hard for technical plausibility. Even when they do try (as with Gravity in 2013) I can usually spot some absurdities–and I’m hardly an expert in the field. And if I can spot some howlers then I presume a real expert would see a lot more.
In the case of The Martian I didn’t spot anything while watching it that was obviously wrong. As I said, I’m not an expert. In fact there is one important impossible event near the beginning. But there used to be a rule of thumb among hard science fiction writers that you are allowed to make one impossible assumption in setting up your story, as long as it isn’t too obvious. So I think this movie is well within the rules.
Apparently Ridley Scott was planning to make a sequel to Prometheus but agreed to direct The Martian instead. I’d say that was a good choice.