Feb 292016

The_Martian_PosterDuring a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crew-mates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible, rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard (screenplay), Andy Weir (book)
Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Vincent Kapoor, Benedict Wong
Runtime: 144 min; Rated: PG-13; Genre: Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi; Released: 02 Oct 2015

We watched this Saturday evening. I’d been wanting to see it for a while. Overall impressions, it was OK at best, but not nearly as good as I expected. Lay didn’t like it at all, but he’s never very keen on sci-fi.

So, let’s first get one of the big problems with the movie out-of-the-way. The initiating event that causes Damon to be stranded, a huge wind storm, is not possible, but at least in the press leading up to the movie, the director and writer concede the point.

However, there was a lot more that just didn’t make sense. I haven’t read the book, but understand that Damon’s character, Mark Watney, has, in the book, two degrees, one in engineering and one in botany. In the movie, he’s only a botanist. In the short sequence prior to “storm,” Watney is merely taking soil samples and rocks. Why would NASA send a botanist if there no aspect of the mission that involved trying to grow plants. Also, since he lacks an engineering degree in the movie, some of the things he figures out and accomplishes are a bit far-fetched. Now I’m sure NASA picks extremely bright people, and I’m sure they are well-trained, but Watney seems able to re-engineer nearly everything he has available to him, and in very short order.

He starts growing his own food to survive until the next Mars mission can arrive, but then, yet another implausible wind storm wrecks that farm. This results in he and NASA basically giving up on growing food again. I didn’t understand that, as he still have all the same materials available he did when he started the “farm.”

From this point on, the movie becomes all to predictable and over-wrought. While Damon does OK, I didn’t get the sense of fear, isolation, and fatalism that I suspect someone in his predicament would feel. There were too many mentions of Disco music the commander of the mission left behind to ill effect, unconvincing supporting characters on the Earth who seem to be just reciting a script. His crew-mates experience all the expected remorse about “leaving him behind,” and all the dialogue from their characters is expected.

Apollo 13 created more tension even though we knew the final outcome, and Tom Hanks plumbed the depths of a stranded lone survivor in “Cast Away” much better. It was a let down.

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