The Martian (2015) Director: Ridley Scott
Alone on a deserted planet, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney in Ridley Scott’s wonderful adaptation of Adam Weir’s celebrated 2011 science fiction novel of the same name. In the year prior Matt Damon also played a stranded astronaut in a surprise appearance in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. The Martian is a eminently enjoyable and enlightening survival-in-space story. When a sudden storm strikes a scientific crew on the surface of Mars in the year 2035 (filmed in the desert terrain of Jordan), its lead botanist Mark Watney is believed to be dead and abandoned by his fellow crewmen aboard the Ares III. When he awakens from the storm, Watney returns to the crew’s rudimentary shelter where he begins devising complex plans for his own survival –growing potatoes using the nutrients from human excrement and Martian soil, while searching for some method to make contact with NASA back home to notify them that he is alive. Knowing that the next Ares mission is not scheduled to arrive on Mars for at least four years, he discovers the remnants of an old expedition, the Pathfinder mission, which allows for crude forms of communication. When NASA attempts to send a new mission to rescue Watney it fails (the public relations nightmare facing the bureaucracy at NASA is contrasted with the desperate means of survival by Watney on Mars), the Ares III disobeys orders and turns back to Mars to rescue their abandoned crewman. With help from engineers at NASA, a hare-brained scheme is devised in which Watney attempts to blast himself into space aboard a tarp-covered ship and in the end he is finally rescued. By now, Watney views himself as a lone pirate shipwrecked at the edge of civilization, the first human being to be left entirely alone on a distant planet. In the end, he is returned home where he becomes an educator of future space travelers, and we see new Ares missions begin to take place. It is a hopeful, optimistic picture about the future of science.
Boasting an incredible cast of Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Sean Bean (whose character makes an amusing reference to Lord of the Rings and “Project Elrond” in the movie), Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor and many others. NASA was also apparently intimately involved as a consultant for this film, as with Weir’s original novel, the film strove to achieve serious scientific accuracy. There is an impressive amount of engineering and aerospace technical jargon employed in the film, however it is still not disorienting for the average viewer. In fact, it celebrates the ingenuity of modern science –all situations become mere hurdles or puzzles to solve. The Martian is more light-hearted and entertaining picture with a sarcastic sense of self-confidence rather than a gritty or dark movie (which it very easily could have been). Some have suggested this film has helped to spur public excitement for future manned missions to Mars. Nominated for best picture, The Martian is an excellent film in my book, a late-career triumph for Ridley Scott on par with his earlier masterpieces: Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, or Black Hawk Down.