Mars is having a big week.
This Friday, The Martian, opens in theaters nationwide. Based on Andy Weir’s best selling novel, the Ridley Scott directed, Matt Damon starring, Robinson Crusoe-esque space opera is an early favorite to earn a payload of nominations during award season.
Also water was found on Mars reigniting the world’s fascination with space.
It’s up for debate as to which is the bigger story.
Describing The Martian as, “Matt Damon gets Lost in Space,” is probably downplaying the movie just a bit even though that’s about as accurate a description as you can get. There have been many movies about man vs. the infinite bleakness of space, but few focus on the “science” opting more for the fiction. It’s not as compelling to focus on the math that goes into repairing the ship on the fly in order to get home (Apollo 13) as opposed to surviving an alien attack or space madness (too many to mention). Despite massive amounts of science– technically botany– The Martian is going to be an action-packed thriller of a movie. The science of survival by Matt Damon is to The Martian as the use of a giant yellow exoskeleton by Sigourney Weaver is to Aliens.
Damon’s character, astronaut Mark Watney, and the crew of his ship, Ares III, are caught in a violent storm while on a sample-collecting mission on Mars. Separated from his team and presumed dead, Watney is left behind as his team forced to return to earth. The first problem to arise: Watney isn’t dead. The second problem: the trip back to earth is one way, and it will take four years for a NASA ship to get back to the red planet to rescue him. The third problem: make a few months of food and water last as long as a college career until someone can pick him up and bring him home.
There is no shortage of movies about space or shortage of imaginative problems characters can run into there. It’s easy to captivate an audience when you’re using made up terms like ‘light-saber’ and inventing words like ‘Vulcon’ or ‘Klingon’ to transport the viewer into a new realm beyond the stars. The intriguing plot of The Martian is that the ‘magic’ used is actual science. Watney is forced to ‘science the shit’ out of his situation or face certain death. Movie stakes don’t really get cooler than that.
Despite being set in a world where NASA is routinely going to Mars, there is a lot for people to relate to in this movie which ultimately is going to make a movie to experience this fall. Whether it takes place on an unknown island, on the peak of a mountain few have summited, or a red planet that may or may not be able to support life, watching a character blow past the limits of creativity, imagination, and inventiveness in order to do so is worth watching. The will to live despite the gravest of odds is the most human and rewarding story you can watch.
Ridley Scott, master of science fiction, and Matt Damon, master of everyman-thrust-into-extraordinary-circumstance character work, team up to bring us a science faction space opera that looks like the first ‘experience’ movie of the season.*
*Everest was probably the first… but no one saw that.