How does one man survive on an uninhabited planet where nothing grows naturally and oxygen can only be produced inside a space bunker? As Mark Watney (Matt Damon) shows, snark and science are the only ways to survive on Mars in director Ridley Scott’s movie “The Martian.”
The movie begins with Watney and his crew of Martian explorers evacuating their base during a powerful storm. Watney is impaled with a cable, and he is lost in the storm. Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) must abandon him to save the crew. The next day, Watney wakes up and has to begin the seemingly insurmountable task of providing food and water for himself, making contact with Earth, and finding a way to the base for the next mission due to arrive in four years.
Meanwhile on Earth, it does not take long for satellite images to show that things are inexplicably moving around the base. Watney and NASA scientists are able to make contact with each other first by moving a robotic camera, then through the Internet. At first, NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) is hesitant to send a rescue mission for one man. The rest of Watney’s crew is still in space, but they cannot turn their space station around and go back to get him.
After much convincing from Sanders’s top aides: Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig) the NASA Spokeswoman, and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) the mission directors, Sanders decides to send a rescue mission. It then becomes a race against time to save Watney before he runs out of food and supplies or Commander Lewis’s Disco music drives him insane.
The greatest strength of this movie is the combination of accessible yet intelligent science behind Watney’s survival skills and the rescue attempt coupled with all the characters’ sass and dry humor. Because Watney is able to grow crops on Mars, he is officially a colonizer of Mars. But when he has to leave the base, he is legally subject to Maritime law, and since he is not allowed to be in “international waters” outside of the base, he is also a pirate and wants to be referred to as Blonde Beard.
While the stories on Earth and the space station are shot using traditional camera styles, all the scenes on Mars are generally shot with various cameras on Watney’s space suit and those set up around the base. Watney talks to the cameras to tell his story like a blog or YouTube channel. He talks through his problems and solutions like a Do-It-Yourself survival video or one-man TV survival show such as “Survivor Man.”
The graphics used to create the Martian landscape and space station are flawless. If Mars truly does look like the CGI landscapes in the movie, then it is a gorgeous (not to mention unforgiving) place to visit.
The soundtrack consists of Commander Lewis’s Disco collection because that is the only music left at Watney’s base. He consistently makes fun of Lewis’s horrible taste in music, but the upbeat dance tracks help to lighten the mood as Watney is constantly faced with life-or-death survival challenges.
“The Martian” may be a sci-fi thriller, but its intelligent use of science, humor, human determination, and creative camera styles make it a great movie for just about anyone. This movie gets a 5/5, even from a non-fan of sci-fi.