The Martian is so exciting, the 2 ½ hours fly by as the viewer is transfixed on the screen, first watching Mark Watney (Damon) using his considerable skills to survive all alone on Mars by producing water, setting up a farm for food, and making electronic equipment work for him; and second, watching as NASA and other scientists and the crew on a returning spaceship, the Hermes, make difficult decisions and work together to try to bring the abandoned astronaut home.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland
The crew of Hermes, led by Commander Lewis (Chastain) are busily collecting data on Mars when a fierce storm comes and blows Watney away. Lewis risks her life in going out to try to find him, but can’t, and logically concludes he is dead. In order to survive, the team needs to leave and head back to earth and they blast off. However, Watney is not dead, and when he regains consciousness, he has a major wound he must treat and finds that he is on his own. Oh, f---!
For a good part of the film after that, we observe this very proud botanist problem-solving ways to get food and water, get battery power for the Rover, and attempt to reconnect communication lines with NASA. Then we get good glimpses into organizational politics and see hypotheses formed, and policies made with insufficient information. When astute observers see evidence that Mark is indeed alive, agreements have to be made about what to do with the situation and how wide the net of information to others should be spread, including the returning spaceship crew. There are major setbacks along the way, and finally, the U.S. must rely on a foreign power for assistance.
I understand that the book on which the film is based is laden with technical information difficult for the average reader to wade through, so director Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard are to be congratulated on making the film just technical enough to heighten the drama of the plot. Damon fits the role perfectly, with its blend of male-type analyses, wry humor, and drive for adventure. He is the only one on screen for a significant amount of time and is entirely watchable throughout. He deserves nominations at awards time.
The supporting cast members hold their own as well. Jessica Chastain gives a solid performance as a female commander, Jeff Daniels as the bad-guy administrative head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as a scientist willing to take risks, Sean Bean as an advocate for major players lower on the hierarchy, Kate Mara as an astronaut with electronic know-how, and Michael Pena as an astronautic navigator and friendly competitor with Mark. Kristen Wiig steps out of her usual comedy routine to be an able assistant to the head of NASA, Teddy Sanders. Donald Glover is a stand out as Rich Purnell, a nerdy astrophysicist who stumbles out of bed after a late night of work and steps up with plans for rescue that make the higher-ups take notice.
Throughout, we get glimpses of the players’ personal lives, but the most entertaining and valuable aspects of the film have to be the ingenuity involved in survival and the ethical-moral-practical decisions that people in charge must make on an everyday basis and at critical times. The point is well made that these are gut-wrenching decisions and that the best ones are those made by all involved, not just the people at the top.
An exciting, nerve-wracking, informative picture about what it takes to be a successful astronaut.