‘The Martian’ offers both science and heart

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Ron and Leigh Martel Movie Reviewers, The Friday Flyer

Ron and Leigh Martel
Movie Reviewers, The Friday Flyer

Greetings earthlings! We have found another guy with the right stuff. With today’s CGI superheroes mindlessly pummeling each other with relentless pyrotechnics, it is science that is integral to the plot of “The Martian.” Better yet, the intelligent storyline of this gripping tale of survival is thoroughly captivating, intriguing and even entertaining.

It was just last year that we saw Damon stranded on Mars in “Interstellar.” Fortunately, he’s not the same character, this is not the same storyline and the plot is not nearly as pretentious; just so much more enjoyable. Here, we root for Damon from the outset in this one-man show that happens to be assisted by a talented and engaging support cast.

Director Ridley Scott offers a tribute to the indomitable human spirit. He refreshingly delivers a heartfelt and visually spectacular science-fiction blockbuster where the active word is “science.” When exploring the red planet, a fierce storm bombards the crew. With no other choice, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) aborts the mission.

Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is incapacitated and separated from his teammates. Nowhere in sight, he is left behind for dead. He must fend for himself with minimal supplies, broken communications system and help 140 million miles away. Houston, we have a problem! At this point, Watney boldly commits, “No, I’m not going to die!”

Although stranded and alone on this hostile planet, this trained botanist must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and inner MacGyver in order to survive. And, that’s where the “fun” begins. He must define each problem, craft solutions using his meager supplies and improvise to make up for the missing pieces. Unfortunately, elements of this unforgiving planet do not always cooperate, which generates frustration and greater determination.

Eventually, movement is discovered on the planet. So NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring Watney home before his supplies run out. It’s “ground control to Major Tom.” Then, against direct orders, the former crew plots its own daring, if not impossible rescue mission. As the news spreads, the world comes together to pull for the safe return of the guy with the right stuff.

Author Andy Weir first published this best selling novel on his own site for free. When demand exceeded capabilities, he made it available on Kindle for only 99 cents. Sure, the story is about astronauts and outer space, but it’s mostly about perseverance and survival. A case could be made that everyone has had their own Mars experience; seemingly caught in a no-win situation and repeatedly getting knocked down.

The challenge is immense, but the message is to find ways to solve immense problems. Damon is the heart and soul of this feature, but the supporting cast is extraordinary. He and Chastain are joined by Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Each gets a chance to shine and add to the sophisticated drama.

This forbidding, red colored desert was filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan. NASA was consulted to get the most accurate factoids regarding space and space travel. To include NASA in the film, producers had to demonstrate seriousness and accuracy of the subject matter. 50 pages of this script, by Drew Goddard, was NASA provided material.

“The Martian” is 141 minutes and rated PG-13 for strong language and injury images.

The riveting script celebrates brain over brawn, interspersed with light humor. Thankfully, Scott wasn’t trying to make a metaphysical classic, but maybe he did something better. He turns science and problem solving into popcorn (or potato) entertainment.

Astronaut Watney explains, “Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are (those) who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. Maybe Matt Damon can now be called, “My Favorite Martian.”

Ron’s Rating: A-   Leigh’s Rating: B+

 

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Ron & Leigh Martel