A Mission on Mars Becomes a Mission to Survive

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MV5BMTc5OTgyODI3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjE0MDE5NTE@._V1__SX1234_SY584_Over the past couple of years, films such as “Interstellar” and “Gravity” have displayed the excitement and peril of space exploration. Through stunning visual effects, they transported audiences into the far reaches of outer space and continued to prove that Earth does not have to be a boundary for adventure.

Director Ridley Scott brings that spirit of adventure to life in the sci-fi drama, “The Martian,” based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, which was first published in 2011. Like many book-to-film adaptions, the book proves to be superior to the film, but Scott has made a movie that is still hugely enjoyable and thrilling.

During NASA’s “Ares III” mission on Mars, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and his crew (Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie) are hit by an intense sandstorm, forcing them to end their mission early and evacuate. While doing so, Mark is lost and believed to be dead, causing the rest of the crew to leave him behind.  Following the storm, Mark finds he is all alone.

After some time, NASA realizes Mark is alive and soon begins to formulate a plan to save him. Meanwhile, Mark, who is equipped with limited supplies, but unlimited resourcefulness, must figure out a way to stay alive until he can be rescued.

Matt Damon is the perfect choice for the lead role, expertly displaying the character’s sense of humor, survivalist ingenuity, and the emotional toll that comes with isolation. Although he is backed up by a supporting cast full of talented actors and actresses, such as Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jeff Daniels, it’s Damon who carries the film. He is endlessly entertaining to watch as his character uses his wit to get him through the rough patches, and also as he contemplates his situation with a more emotional side to his character.

The screenplay by Drew Goddard maintains the spirit of the novel, despite some of the changes he made for the movie. Those who have read the novel will know that a significant factor that makes the source material so interesting is how in-depth the science is presented, providing us with an insight into Mark’s vast intellect. Most of the novel is told through Mark’s point-of-view as he offers very detailed explanations about the scientific processes he performs, but it wouldn’t have translated well to a screenplay to have the character provide endless exposition through voiceover narration, so it makes sense that Goddard trimmed down most of the scientific explanations. Despite this, he successfully manages to keep the intrigue of Mark’s science in tact as the character goes from one task to another.

Just like in the novel, the secondary characters of Mark’s crew and at NASA aren’t written with much depth, but given the time sensitivity of Mark’s situation, it makes sense for these supporting characters to perform their given tasks, instead of getting caught up in scenes that are more dramatic.

Just as Ridley Scott did with “Alien” and “Prometheus,” he manages to capture the combined beauty and danger of distant planets and outer space, and this is all with the help of the grandiose cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, which offers shots of space and Mars that look glorious on the big screen. Scott also goes in a different direction with the subject of space exploration, because while “Alien” and “Prometheus” present a darker approach to space exploration, Scott uses “The Martian” as an opportunity to present a more hopeful approach to this topic, using a story about humans doing everything they can to bring one of their own back home.

Benefitting from Damon’s charismatic performance, a fast-paced story, and marvelous visuals, “The Martian” is a movie that you should find time to experience in a theater.  Just buy a ticket, find a seat, and get ready to blast off.

Final grade: A-

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