Return to Mars

It is a sad reflection of the current space program, when the most interesting development depicted in “The Martian” is its optimism. Past space blockbusters, such as “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” chronicle catastrophe after catastrophe, which leave an array of technological failures and plans that NASA would never approve in their wake. The harrowing truth of it all is that a crazed Matt Damon is not the biggest threat to space exploration; budget is.

The Martian, however, illustrates a future when neither money, nor disaster, is unable to prevent the power of human curiosity. In the movie’s canon, NASA is sending regular missions to Mars, not even for colonization, but just to collect samples. This is a future prediction that could validate the emotional toil of a thousand budget meetings between NASA officials and uninformed members of Congress.

The hope does not stop there. The movie’s protagonist, Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, who appears to be fulfilling some childhood astronaut fantasies with his recent space themed releases, consistently exercises great optimism and patience throughout the disastrous scenario of being left behind on Mars. In fact, Watney seems less annoyed by life-threatening machine failures and the discovery that he was abandoned “Home Alone” style 225 million km away from Earth than most middle schoolers who are unable to open their lockers.

Some of the film’s best lines occur during Watney’s inner dialogue, which was juxtaposed to his calamitous situation.  They have a combination of light-heartedness and dryness that feels refreshing in the often ambitious and existential dialogue of recent space-centric films. Although Watney’s attitude concerning his life on Mars may seem unrealistic to the more anxious observer, it still humanizes Watney and separates him from the typical brooding space explorer type. To that effect, Watney’s dialogue feels like it was lifted from an actual astronaut, Chris Hadfield or Scott Kelley, not just a masculine, Hollywood hero.

Although this may not seem groundbreaking, it is enjoyable to watch a film that accurately tries to mirror the culture and actual voices of astronauts without the cloying touch of Hollywood. What “The Martian” accomplishes that is missed by so many movies is that astronauts are above else human beings. Their media depictions do not always have to be akin to quasi action heroes with big egos and dark pasts. Watney proves that they can be funny and they can fail in their endeavors, as space exploration is imperfect and uncharted.

Moreover, moviegoers who felt that “Interstellar” was too maudlin will rejoice that the Martian is devoid of a romance between the two main characters. Thus, the film proves that male and female astronauts can encounter problems without falling in love.

There are moments, however, when the movie does seem to be a bit self-involved. Overall, these moments are few. Some of the outcomes and issues of NASA’s attempt to retrieve Watney are a bit predictable and at times too convenient. In actuality, a rescue mission of this dire status would probably be significantly more difficult and the probability of all the science working out as it did in the movie is unlikely. Additionally, Donald Glover’s character of the archetypical hermit genius was merely a device for the filmmakers to shoehorn in a solution to their problems and make some expected, “watch smart, weird people interact with bureaucrats with preconceived notions ” jokes.

In spite of these flaws, “The Martian” proves to be a grounded space film with broad appeal. If for no other reason, please go see the Martian simply to witness the simulated Red Planet in all its glory and imagine a day when NASA will be allotted the funds to take humans there.


Posted by on October 20, 2015. Filed under Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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