Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left by his crew mates on the planet Mars after an unexpected sandstorm—and a collision from a satellite—leaves him presumably dead. Mark survives, however, and is alone on the red, hostile planet, assuming that his days are going south. Fortunately, there is already shelter set up. He also happens to have a background in botany, and is an incredibly skilled engineer. Determined to stay alive, his main objective is to figure out how to make food and water that will last from now to the time NASA will allow another man-mission to Mars (four years, to be exact), until eventually figuring out how to contact NASA. He records daily video journals and even displays an upbeat sense of humor “in the face of overwhelming odds.”
The Martian, in its simplest form, is a story of survival, ingenuity, and perseverance. Based on the novel by Andy Weir, sharply written for the screen by Drew Goddard (World War Z), and directed with skill by Ridley Scott (his fourth sci-fi outing following Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus), the film is very intelligent and key on science and authenticity. NASA was consulted to ensure that such science would be portrayed accurately and relevantly. With that in mind, this film could be a mending of science-fiction and science-fact, but without all the complexity that encircled, say, last year's Interstellar. The Martian also has an engrossing sense of humor, partly with the inclusion of 70s music (much to the dismay of Damon’s Watney). Damon is backed up by a pretty impeccable cast including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, and Kristen Wiig. The music score by Harry Gregson-Williams is at times mysterious; other times, grandly-calm; and other times, appropriately-emotional.
Hollywood seems to be revisiting and celebrating the space race in recent years. Gravity (2013) was a story about getting home, while visualizing the wonders and horrors of being in space. Interstellar (2014) was about space travel in terms of finding a new home for the inhabitants of a dying earth. Even Tomorrowland from earlier this year implied, in part, that there are still possibilities and new ideas for space exploration.
What’s most impressive about The Martian is that it isn’t just a sole-survivor story on the surface a la Cast Away or All Is Lost. It’s a global effort, consisting of NASA and other world agencies and scientific engineers, to bring one man back home. (If you recall, Matt Damon played a similar character in Saving Private Ryan.) Writes Rubin Safaya of Cinemalogue.com, “The true spectacle of space exploration . . . lies in the collaboration between people: scientists, engineers, agencies, governments, nations, and the public. . .” At the same time, the individual choices we make every day as human beings—what we choose to do, how we choose to act—can influence and bring people together to achieve the impossible.