More noise than signal

The Martian

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Ridley Scott’s movie sees Matt Damon’s Mark Whatney stranded on Mars, after a fierce storm causes the first manned mission to Mars to scrub and take off early. Unfortunately an unplanned flying radar dish – Whatney interface scenario knocks him out his crewmates are unable to find him, do they’re forced to leave without him.

So, with the rest of the universe thinking him dead, Whatney must find a way initially to survive firstly the mild impaling he took, then a longer term solution for the whole “hostile, barren planet” thing. The parallels with Robinson Crusoe on Mars are obvious, although there’s no monkey, so this is a clearly an inferior film.

Sausage-plants aside, there’s still the same need to fulfil the basics – food, oxygen, and contacting Earth to ask for a lift home, the details of which are perhaps best left for those interested to discover. Of course, once NASA know he’s alive they do their best to resupply him and bring him home, which has its own set of challenges, which again are best left uncovered to those who haven’t yet seen it.

Now, the selling point of the book on which this is based, and therefore the film, is that it’s at least on nodding terms with scientific accuracy, or at the very least it’s closer to “hard” sci-fi than anything else that we’ve spoken about on the rest of this podcast. But accuracy isn’t really the primary concern.

It’s about human ingenuity it the face of adversity, and the human spirit sustaining against the odds. This mainly shows up in Whatney’s sense of humour, which you’ll either dig or not.

Which is a wider criticism of both the film and the book, as while I find the dialogue entertaining, it’s not exactly “good”. Better, though, are the visuals, which look amazing, both in the CG landscapes and the design of the habitation modules and other bits of NASA kit.

While it’s mainly the Matt Damon show, and his charisma more than carries the day, there’s also amiable support from the likes of Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Pena. Only NASA chief Jeff Daniels puzzles with what appears to be a purposefully stiff performance, but the rest of the support is likeable.

By most conventional metrics, The Martian is the best film we’ve covered in this little sojourn, so by all means seek it out.