‘The Martian’ Defies Typical Sci-Fi Gravity

By Maya Patterson

Science nerds and comedy lovers alike will love The Martian. Director Ridley Scott’s newest sci-fi adventure feature film opens with the banter of the crew of six NASA astronauts on Mars. Drew Goddard, the scriptwriter, continues the witty exchanges throughout the movie’s 141 minutes — and that lightness of approach sets The Martian apart from recent space-related movies such as Christopher Nolan’s cerebral and dramatic Interstellar and Alfonso Cuarón’s serious, anxiety-heavy Gravity.

The film is comical and cringe-worthy, hopeful and heart breaking, leaving the audience with a unique perspective on our red neighbor.

Based on Andy Weir’s originally self-published 2011 novel (re-released by Crown Publishing in 2014), the movie follows Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, after he is left behind on Mars. His crew, led by disco-music-loving Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain), along with actors Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie, and Sebatian Stan, make an emergency departure during a Mars storm, where Watney is hit by debris. The crew leaves on Sol 18 (Mars day 18), mourning the apparent death of their colleague Watney.

Watney, a very alive botanist left alone on the planet, in time claims that he “colonized Mars” by planting potato seeds, using human waste as fertilizer, and creating water – “Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn.” The NASA bureaucracy back on Earth thinks he is dead until Sol 54, when a satellite communicator (Mackenzie Davis) finds that parts of the HAB (NASA’s Martian habitat) have somehow moved and alerts the resident Mars expert (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the NASA director (Jeff Daniels). In a frenzy to make contact with Watney, NASA contacts the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the designer and creator of the Mars Pathfinder lander and the Sojourner rover, while Watney himself makes a trip to the last known location of the rover, the only way to now contact Earth.

The entire film keeps you on the edge of your seat, watching, waiting, and anticipating as Watney takes great strides on Mars, but then is forced backwards by complications ranging from storms on the red planet to running out of ketchup. Watney’s determination, and the great minds working on Earth to bring the astronaut back home, propel things forward. Though the movie is filled to its brim with scientific principles, mathematic equations, and crippling physical exertion, the audience is guided along, so that even the scientifically challenged can understand what is happening, when, and why.

The Martian truly succeeds in making the audience care and root for Watney through the ingenious cinematography of Dariusz Wolski, such as filming a diary with the HAB camera, Watney’s suit camera, and the camera on the NASA vehicle that Watney drives. Damon also brings emotion and instability to the character, making him more believable. Who wouldn’t go insane after spending almost two years alone on a deserted red planet? And Watney, by screaming and pounding on the steering wheel of the NASA vehicle during a mental breakdown, definitely shows signs of insanity.

Damon’s performance in this film is outstanding, reminding audiences everywhere why we love this actor, much like last year’s Gone Girl did for Ben Affleck. With The Martian under their belt, the sky’s the limit for Damon and the rest of the cast, including Donald Glover and Kristen Wiig, two unexpectedly brilliant additions.

Wiig, known for her comedic roles in romantic comedies and her characters on Saturday Night Live, is a surprise in The Martian by playing the levelheaded NASA public relations maven. Glover, a stand-up comedian, freestyle rapper, and sitcom actor, plays an astrophysicist whose ingenious idea changes the course of the film, which is a complete 180-degree turn from the roles he has played before.

Audience members everywhere, no matter their background or interests, have been discovering things to love about The Martian, because finding something to geek out over in this movie is as easy as planting potato seeds.

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