Starring Matt Damon. Rated PG.
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) surveys the wreckage of his tiny base on Mars. Injured, poorly supplied, and abandoned on an airless planet, he is in as much trouble as a person can get.
Resigned, Watney tells the video log that he has one option. “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this,” he sighs.
That line encapsulates the tone of The Martian, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the novel by Andy Weir. It’s also a mission statement, a declaration that it’s better to solve problems than to despair, and that bravery and good humour might be choices rather than accidents of character.
Scott’s ability to create interesting scenery has never been questioned, but some of his recent work has been marred by strange casting choices (Exodus: Gods and Kings) or incomplete scripts (Prometheus and Robin Hood). The Martian, by contrast, is extremely tight and also impeccably cast. Watney is alone, but we are let into a densely populated world of NASA bureaucrats, techs, and astronauts, all pushing themselves to get Watney off that cold, red rock.
There might be a more poetic version of this story where Watney is completely isolated and faces extermination with nary a quip or improvised plan (and it is called Sunshine), but it would not be as enjoyable. Scott is able to keep up the tension by pacing out setbacks, but this is really a movie about joy: of survival and optimism, sure, but mostly of rationality, innovation, and sheer intelligence.
For putting the science back into science fiction, the movie deserves to be seen. As a great popcorn experience, it will be.