A rare non–R rated adventure film
The Martian came out more than a month and a half ago, but there’s a very good reason it’s still in theaters, with many available showtimes. Director Ridley Scott’s latest space effort is based on a 2011 novel by Andy Weir, and it has nothing to do with nightmare aliens or cryptic plotlines. Instead, this rare non–R rated adventure film deals with one man’s Robinson Crusoe–esque sojourn on Earth’s closest neighbor, a place humanity may visit in the not so distant future.
After all, it is public goodwill that ultimately drives our reach for the stars.
When a sudden storm forces a team of astronauts working on Mars to abandon the Red Planet and their missing colleague, everyone on Earth believes botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is dead. However, Mark survives the storm only to discover he is stranded on Mars, with enough food to last a year, and no hope of rescue until the next scheduled Mars mission in another four years.
Instead of succumbing to rage and despair, Mark applies his brainpower to problem solving. His video diaries—for posterity, since he has no way to communicate with Earth—reveal a man with a strong sense of humor and the sort of attitude it takes to survive a life-and-death situation long term. Meanwhile, back on Earth, satellite images reveal activity on the surface of Mars, and suddenly NASA’s director and Mars mission director (Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor) realize their man on Mars might be alive after all.
There’s an infectious spirit of collaboration and teamwork that pervades the film, with no villain but the limits of physics and the challenges of space. Everyone, bar none, does their best to reach the best outcome: get their man home. As even its title suggests, The Martian manages to feel lighter than traditional “survival in space” films—sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny—although darker moments and tension fill plenty of the two-hour-and-fifteen-minute run time.
Matt Damon carries the film easily with his trademark charm and depth. The supporting roster of respected actors (Sean Bean, Michael Peña, Jessica Chastain), surprising casting choices (Kristin Wiig in a mostly serious role!), and less familiar performers round out the extensive network of brainpower any space mission requires for success, both on the ground and in zero gravity. There’s even an amusing inside joke for anyone familiar with Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The science in the film is explained but not belabored, a helpful balance that neither insults the audience’s intelligence nor bogs down the film’s excellent pacing. Scientific accuracy might be another matter, but to the layperson it seemed very convincing, as if something the world’s best minds could manage in only a couple of decades, rather than a hundred years into the future. The dangers and limitations of space are unforgiving, and very real no matter how much technology we develop. Nevertheless, NASA must love this film, since it portrays near future space travel in such a hopeful, exhilarating light. After all, it is public goodwill that ultimately drives our reach for the stars.
The Martian is rated PG-13 for some isolated bursts of crude language and intense, even scary sequences.