Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Martian (The Movie), by Ridley Scott (director), Drew Goddard (screenplay), Andy Weir (book)

Matt Damon (Mark Watney), Jessica Chastain (Melissa Lewis), Kristen Wiig (Annie Montrose), Jeff Daniels (Teddy Sanders), Michael Peña (Rick Martinez), Sean Bean (Mitch Henderson), Kate Mara (Beth Johanssen), Sebastian Stan (Chris Beck), Axel Hennie (Alex Vogel), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Vincent Kapoor), Benedict Won (Bruce Ng), Mackenzie Davis (Mindy Park), Donald Glover (Rich Purnell)

October 2015

This is the movie adaptation of Andy Weir's book, The Martian. The Mars expedition Ares III is going about its research business on Mars when a storm descends on them, both earlier and more powerful than originally predicted. In the scramble to get people and essential equipment into the MAV for liftoff and return to Hermes, an antenna is broken up and part of it driven at high speed into Mark Watney. He doesn't return to the MAV, and telemetry from his suit stops abruptly. He's been killed. With great reluctance, pushing everything to the last minute, Commander Lewis finally gives the order to lift without him.

But Mark isn't dead.

When he regains consciousness, withs the storm over, he realizes what's happened, that everyone believes he's dead, and he's stuck on Mars. As he repairs his equipment and treats his wound, he faces the fact that he has equipment intended to sustain six people for a month, and he's got about four years before the next manned mission from Earth arrives on Mars. And when it does arrive, even if he were still alive, it would be landing thousands of kilometers away from him. After assessing his supplies and resources, and the challenge he faces, he sums things up thus: "I have to science the shit out of this."

And he does. With determination, humor, ingenuity. He works out how long the available rations will last. He takes the potatoes intended to be part of a "home-cooked" Martian Thanksgiving dinner, and starts serious farming, creating soil out of Martian dirt, human waste, and water that he manages to manufacture without actually blowing himself up. He uses everyone else's entertainment files to keep himself sane--even though there's way too much disco music and seventies tv. He salvages Pathfinder.

It's over a month before the ongoing satellite study of Mars picks up the evidence that Mark Watney isn't dead. It takes longer to work out a means of communication.

The entire country, and then the whole world, starts pulling for a rescue of Mark Watney.

This is wonderful sf adventure, a competent person morality tale of the kind science fiction has loved since at least the 1930s, and in the end, it's a positive, hopeful view of humanity. It's well-written, well-acted, and as faithful to Weir's excellent novel as is possible in the space allowed by a commercially viable movie. There are no fantasy perfect human beings here, but no cheap villains, either. Imperfect people of good will do their best, as far as they can figure out what that is, and they won't quit doing it.

A completely satisfying, enjoyable movie. Highly recommended.