Light on plot, but big on nerd-tainment – you’re welcome – director Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated film adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestseller “The Martian” is no “Interstellar” or even “Alien,” but the film is a more than acceptable addition to the science fiction genre, though it further emphasizes my and many others’ commonly held belief that the book is almost always better than the film.
The NASA crew Ares 3 is conducting experiments on Mars when suddenly a Martian storm rapidly descends upon them. Reluctantly, Ares 3 Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) orders the crew to abandon their mission. Fighting their way through intense winds and Martian debris, the crew heads for their exit. However, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris, lost, and presumed dead. But, he’s very much alive and alone, on Mars.
That sequence lasts all of 10 minutes before we settle in, and Watney, after the dire situation briefly weighs on him, gets to work, explaining his process to a digital log, i.e. the audience, the whole way. In what could have become an incredibly boring, drawn out hour and a half, Damon’s Watney instead entertains. Watney explains, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.” And so, he does.
Realizing that he’ll quickly run out of rations before Ares 4 lands on Mars, roughly four years later, Watney’s first task is to grow food. Fortunately, he’s a botanist; unfortunately, he’s a botanist on Mars. However, he makes due with the crew’s fecal waste and leftover potatoes. But, he then runs into another issue – water. Too bad NASA didn’t have the opportunity tell Watney that they recently discovered water on Mars, could have been useful. Instead, Watney almost blows himself up in a chemistry experiment extracting water from rocket fuel or something to that affect.
While this is all going on, the people of Earth some 33.9 million miles away – 54.6 million kilometers for my European friends – have discovered their error and are in a frenzy trying to figure out how to rescue Watney. It’s become a worldwide event.
Meanwhile, the Ares 3 crew is humming along home and super bummed. They just lost their charismatic crewmember and, perhaps as bad, have to divvy up his daily responsibilities – no bueno, more work. And, NASA has elected to not tell them about Watney being alive.
As you can tell, there really isn’t too much of a plot. What makes this film fun is Watney’s use of science to stay alive. Damon’s character is likeable, charismatic and you want to root for him, but, ultimately, you know little about him. Watney, his crewmembers and the abundant NASA scientists, Chinese scientist and just about everyone on planet Earth makes it difficult for Scott and writer Drew Goodard (World War Z) to develop any of the characters.
The film relies instead on beautifully rendered Mars’ landscapes, and Watney’s inner and often humorous outer dialogue. Though entertaining initially, as the film wore on it began to feel as isolating as the Martian landscape. That is, of course, until the tense, final act. And, finally, the film’s deviation at important moments in the book is a bit frustrating.
All in all, “The Martian” will likely score big at the box office. And, it should. Despite an absent plot and not adhering to the source material that made it a hit to begin with, the film pretty darn entertaining.
“The Martian” is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images and brief nudity.
3.5 stars out of 5