I saw The Martian over the weekend, and I cannot say enough good things about it. Evidently, many others agree with me, as it grossed $100 million around the world ($55 million in the U.S.) on its opening weekend, and currently has a 94% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is simply an excellent movie, for many, many reasons, some of which I’ll touch on below.
The story is well-paced and exciting. The Martian has no flab or down-time: it starts off straight away with the event that strands astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) on Mars, and moves on briskly from there. If anyone you know ever sneers about self-published books, remind them that The Martian began as an indie book (the fact that it was never nominated for a Hugo Award says more about the Hugos than it does author Andy Weir).
(On a side note, the movie is PG-13, for some gory moments in the beginning when Watney deals with his injuries; some brief nudity when the audience sees the effects of his ordeal on his body; and profanity, including a few “f-bombs.” Parents, I wouldn’t take little kids to it, but there’s nothing there that’s gratuitous.)
The acting is excellent. I haven’t seen many Matt Damon films (excepting, of course, Good Will Hunting), but he does a great job here, portraying Watney as resourceful, determined, optimistic but realistic, and trying throughout to keep things as light as possible, given the circumstances.
The rest of the cast is also good, even Jeff Daniels (whom I normally can’t stand) as the head of NASA. Jessica Chastain as Mission Commander Melissa Lewis and Kate Mara as fellow astronaut Beth Johanssen also stand out. You saw Michael Pena as Ant-Man’s sidekick, and he does another great job here.
The visuals are convincing and amazing. I’ve grown weary of the overuse of CGI: it was one of the many factors that ruined The Hobbit (for example) for me, and too often, it fails to impress. That said, my eyes believed everything I saw in The Martian, particularly the evocative landscapes, many of which were filmed in (gasp!) an actual desert.
The tone is just right. The story of a guy who daily faces death by a dozen different ways could be a real downer, but the film strikes the perfect balance between depicting the vast improbability of Watney’s long-term survival and making us think everything will turn out all right.
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of humor: my favorites were the running gag over Lewis’ affection (and Watney’s disgust for) 70’s-era disco music; and Watney’s realization that by commandeering a launch vehicle, he is, by legal definition, a “space pirate.”
The science sounds right. I was never good at physics or math, but I have studied astronomy, and the science that the characters spout passes the “Obvious BS Test” that runs in my head when I see space movies. It’s a science-fiction movie in the purest sense of the term, with the emphasis on “science” of the real, modern-day variety: there aren’t any laser weapons or aliens or faster-than-light travel. Should you have it in you, it will stoke your inner geek.
This movie will get you excited about space travel. My first thought after the film ended was, We have GOT to get to Mars. Yes, it would hugely expensive. Yes, we have plenty of problems here on Earth that we need to work on. But it has been 46 years–almost my whole life–since we landed on the Moon, and I’m tired of waiting for America to get back into the manned space-exploration business that we rocked.
I highly recommend The Martian not only to sci-fi fans, but anyone at all interested in adventure films or space travel.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. He is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.
Kenton also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.