Year Released: 2015
Directed by: : Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor
(PG-13, 134 min.)
Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy
"When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
Remember when you used to sneak away to the cinema to escape the endless gloom and doom that bled from the headlines? Well, now you can again – far, far away to the red planet Mars, where a left for dead astronaut must use his wits to survive until help arrives. It is only 140 million miles away.
When a sudden storm mandates an emergency exit from their Mars expedition, the crew must leave astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind. Flying debris has punctured his space suit and they cannot find him in the impenetrable red dust. Realizing that he would last under a minute in the hostile environment, they reluctantly head back to their larger spacecraft without him.
But miraculously, Mark is still alive. Somehow the steel rod has penetrated his flesh as well as his suit and thus has sealed off the suit. But it hardly matters when he finds himself still alive, since his situation is so dire. Even though he makes it back to the Mars Lander Habitat – HAB for short – and is able to sew himself back up, things look pretty bleak.
If the oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the HAB beaches, I'll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen. I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I'm f**ked. Mark Watney
But bleak as it seems, here is where the film, and the best selling Andy Weir book before it, excels. Some critics have called Mark a combination of Robison Crusoe and TV’s MacGyver, but the latter part of the comparison, at least, seems somewhat demeaning. Unlike McGyver, Mark is grounded in hard science and he uses that to survive.
To this Star Trek fan – mostly the original series with Captain Kirk, before they went New Age with Jean-Luc Picard – Watney is a blend of 3 of favorite characters. He has Captain Kirk’s swaggering boldness, Spock’s relentless precision and logic, and Dr. McCoy’s dry humor, all of which are summed up here:
Technically, Mars is international waters, meaning Maritime Law applies. And since I am illegally commandeering a vessel in international water under maritime law, that makes me a pirate. Mark Watney : Space Pirate
And like Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, The Martian breaks from the strong pessimism of much science fiction. We are not locked into a world where
We used to look up in the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and wonder about our place in the dust.
as Astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) from Interstellar laments. His is a world where man’s vision is getter smaller and smaller, so much so that the schools have rewritten the textbooks, now chronicling our landing on the moon as mere studio propaganda cooked up to lure a naïve Soviet Union into a futile, money draining space race.
More science than science fiction, The Martian stays clear of the ponderous and sometimes oblique metaphysical musings that bogged us down in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This film also avoids the shallow “philosophical heft” of 2012’s Alien prequel, Prometheus where director Ridley Scott asks a few questions about man’s origins, adds a little talk about religious faith versus Darwinism, as well as a quite visible cross on Noomi Rapace’s scientist Elizabeth Shaw. For current Hollywood, that is probably equivalent to the Council of Trent.
In this film, however, director Ridley Scott is back on his game, clean and focused. Mark Watney has a twofold mission: how to contact NASA to let them know he is still alive, and then how to stay alive long enough for an attempted rescue. Given the great distance and travel time, we are not talking about days or months, but years. Mark takes it a day at a time.
If I want water, I'll have to make it from scratch. Fortunately, I know the recipe: Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn.
His brain makes staying alive possible, but his dry sense of humor makes it tolerable, as we note in his daily video log, these entries dealing supplementing his inadequate food supply:
I don't want to come off as arrogant here, but I'm the best botanist on the planet.
They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonized it. So, technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!
Countering his day-to-day survival, we observe NASA's delicate balance of science and politics. Do they let the crew, still several hundred days left in their mission, know Watney is still alive, or will that unsettling news interrupt their concentration? When and how to tell the world, after they have “buried” him with all due ceremony and speechifying, that the martyred astronaut is indeed alive, merely abandoned on a hostile and lifeless planet with no feasible plan yet evolved to bring him back home?
Beyond the politics, though, the hard-working scientists toil through the night to come up with a plan. Like Mark on Mars, it sometimes blows up in their face, but they persist. Will a hostile rival nation share its secrets to help? Can the crazy idea of a gravitational slingshot, the brainchild of a wet behind the ears “astrodynamicist,” actually work?
Enjoy every step and misstep of the way, and rekindle that “can do” spirit that built America. It may seem dormant in our country right now, but it is certainly not during the exciting hours in the darkened cinema as you root for Mark Watney and his NASA colleagues.
Not to miss.
Stranded astronaut Mark Watney is a botanist. And he uses that skill to stretch his very limited food supply. By planting potatoes! Mars’ soil is basically just red dust, so he has to enrich it with one of the earliest fertilizers known to man, this being available in the large assortment of vacuum sealed bags of human poop accumulated on the crew’s stay on Mars.
And those bags do the trick. Although things get a little monotonous when he runs out of catsup.
But we can do better than catsup. How about treating Mark to a large plateful of Roasted Rosemary Red Potatoes. Bathed in butter and olive oil, they are crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. With just the right amount of flavor from the fresh rosemary.
Roasted Rosemary Red Potato Recipe
6 red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Mix together melted butter and oil, then pour into a 9x13nch baking dish. Place the potatoes into the dish, and stir until coated. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Cover with aluminum foil.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Stir the potatoes occasionally to ensure even cooking.