October 4, 2015
Mark Watney is an astronaut member of NASA's Ares III mission to Mars. After a freak accident in a Martian storm, Mark gets knocked out cold and was left behind as dead in the emergency evacuation of his crew off the planet. As it turned out, Mark was still alive. Left to survive on his own resourcefulness, skills and expertise in Botany, Mark had to keep himself alive while waiting for NASA back home to make contact with him and perhaps send a mission to rescue him off Mars.
The story is just like any shipwrecked story where a man is left alone on a deserted island. In this film though, the perils and the problems are upped hundredfold because the island on which this man is marooned is another planet altogether. Mars is nearly a hundred kilometers away from Earth, with no water nor vegetation that could sustain life. In his own words, Mark Watney had to 'Science" his way out of this big predicament.
He needed to create water and fertile soil for his sustenance. He needed to figure out an efficient way of travelling to the target point of the future Mars mission given the limited battery life of his roving vehicle. He needed to figure out a way to communicate with Earth to coordinate any possibility of rescue. Mark Watley was a McGyver of space survival.
Being the only man on Mars, Matt Damon was practically a one-man show here. He was responsible for keeping audiences engaged what could have been a boring 2-1/2 hour film of solitude. As his character Mark was keeping his spirits up by his humorous video log entries, he was keeping us entertained as well with his never-say-die optimism. His positivity draws us to root for him to get out of this alive and well. If that physical transformation of his was not a special effect, it was also a haunting proof of Damon's dedication to this project.
However, unlike "Gravity" where Sandra Bullock was alone for practically the whole film, "The Martian" also tells us about the NASA staff (played by Jeff Bridges, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean) and their efforts to rescue Mark once they realized he was still alive. We will also see Mark's teammates on the Hermes (played by Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan) who grapple with their consciences about leaving Mark behind on Mars and be impressed with the critical decisions they make.
Humor also came from the kind of anachronistic yet undeniably infectious musical soundtrack. These were mainly disco songs from the 1970s, supposedly the favorite music of mission commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain), like "Turn the Beat Around," "Don't Leave Me This Way," "Hot Stuff" and "Waterloo". Just wait for when the cast credits roll up at the end, another surprising but appropriate disco hit will play which may have you singing along.
The scientific principles may not be fully understandable to laymen or even be completely accurate for scientists, but they all seemed logical, and that is what's essential in good science fiction. Various jargon in rocket science and astrodynamics were used, which may literally fly above our heads, but these did not really hamper enjoyment of the film. No matter how complicated the science involved in the situations we see onscreen, writer Drew Goddard (adapting from the 2011 novel of Andrew Weir) and veteran director Ridley Scott made the proceedings very engaging and easy to follow.
After "Gravity" and "Interstellar," I think I may have another science fiction film on top of my year-end list again this year. 10/10.