The Martian

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OH OF COURSE THERE ARE SPOILERS!!! 

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I’ll be honest.  The only reason we went to see Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” is because we got some free tickets with Nectar points that were about to expire. We got them shortly after seeing Ant-Man and, annoyingly, there has been nothing on at the cinema that we’ve wanted see since.

Despite still not having forgiven Scott for the execrable Prometheus, The Martian seemed to be the closest to something that might possibly be entertaining.

Given the aforementioned Prometheus and a feeling generally that Scott makes self important and slightly overblown movies, I wasn’t holding out much hope.

So it came as a huge shock that not only was it massively entertaining,  but it’s quite possibly my film of the year.

It’s a simple enough premise.

MIssion to Mars. Bloke accidentally gets left behind and has to survive with limited resources. NASA mounts a rescue mission. It’s Castaway, Robinson Crusoe and Apollo 13 rolled together into a deeply satisfying whole.

What impresses, apart from the stunning Martian vistas is how lean the movie is. There isn’t a moment wasted and everything that you see is relevant to the narrative. No unwanted pondering; no unnecessary family drama; no poignant childhood flashbacks; just ‘this is what you need to see to tell the story’. Everything you learn about the characters is found out through their actions within the confines of the plot and frankly, that is incredibly refreshing.  

Matt Damon was superb as the beleaguered Mark Watney; again what was refreshing here was that there was very little in the way of “poor me” or demanding pity or feels. He assessed the situation, saw what his options were and got on with the task of surviving, sciencing the shit out of everything as he went . . .

Ah . . .

The science.

Inevitably, bits of it are wrong. You learn this sort of thing when you are sitting beside a scientist during the screening things like:

  • The gravity appeared to be the same as on Earth – it wouldn’t be.  It’s about 40% so there would be a lot of bounce (Not as much as in John Carter, slightly less than the moon) and as a result, the potato plants would probably have been a lot higher.
  • With nothing similar to the Van Allen Belts on Mars, radiation would have been a serious problem.
  • The force of the devastating explosion and the amount of damage done.
  • The storm intensity in contrast comments about taking a year for the boy to be covered by dust.
  • The average temp on Mars is -55C. Probably slightly higher than that where the film was set, but still cold enough to be a lot more of a problem. At one point he sleeps under his rover.  This would have killed him.
  • I have some nagging issues about the strength of the storm and shape of the landers, but I can’t quite articulate those at the moment.

But…

You know what?

It doesn’t matter.  In terms of storytelling and internal logic, it stays true to itself and is never less than believable. Even the author knows that the science is off and states simply that it’s a story and stories require drama.

It’s a good story, well told, well acted by an international cast, well directed, amazing cinematography – it looks simply stunning; it has a thoroughly convincing cast and even Sean Bean was watchable.  There’s a good nerdquake to watch out for with Bean, btw.

The rescue is good “boy’s own adventure” stuff. Utterly thrilling and staggeringly uplifting in a ‘real’ way. Okay, this is science  fiction, but it’s a world away from any of the blockbuster fare we’ve been overloaded with of the last few years. Even as a Marvel fan, I’m suffering from Superhero fatigue, so seeing a ‘genre’ movie that doesn’t insult the intelligence or go all out for cheap crowd pleasing thrills is a welcome change.

If anything detracted, it would have to be the soundtrack – not Watney’s flippant attitude as seems to have be a bit of an issue for some people – I think they want more chest beating and hand wringing.  I digress Harry Gregson-Williams original music is good, but the rest? I get that the only music Watney had was what was on one of the laptops abandoned by one of the other astronauts.  And I absolutely get that the soundtrack should be made up of that music. It’s entirely in keeping.  I even have a fondness for a lot of the music played.

But I found some of it misplaced. Especially on the return to Earth. Given his disdain for 70’s disco, something more modern might have been appropriate.  It’s also had the odd effect of confusing the time period. You never quite got when the movie was set.

But really, this is a minor niggle.  

It’s a fantastic paean to the human spirit and ingenuity and completely un-mawkish which again is fantastically refreshing.

The Martian is, quite frankly, brilliant. Oscar worthy, even.

But I’ll still never forgive him for Prometheus.

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