Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Title: The Martian
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: "The only danger is if they send us to that terrible Planet of the Apes. Wait a minute...Statue of Liberty...that was our planet! You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four Illudium Pu-36 Explosive Space Modulators out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing he can do.
Tagline: "Bring him home."
Better Tagline: "Mars attacks! Sort of, in passive, environmental fashion."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left for dead on Mars when NASA's manned Ares III mission is forced to abort. Stranded with no hope of rescue until the next mission arrives in three years, Watney must draw on his skills as a botanist to grow food and survive. Meanwhile, NASA has discovered his non-terminal state and is frantically working on a way to recover him before time runs out and the agency suffers an even bigger PR disaster.
"Critical" Analysis: It's refreshing in this day and age to see a movie showing us science — in authentic or at least theoretically plausible form — is a Good Thing. We've already had plenty of films this year alone promoting bad science (with predictably disastrous results). And even those movies where the bullshitology hasn't been cranked to 11 still come across as cautionary tales, so director Ridley Scott et al. giving us a protagonist who grows potatoes and burns hydrazine to create water instead of Crocodile Dundee-ing velociraptors is a welcome break from the norm.
To his credit, he's also muted some of the less audience-friendly aspects of Andy Weir's book. The jargon is dialed way back, and a few incidents that would have led to more "science-ing" have been excised. "Book Watney" was also unfailingly chipper, like the door on the Heart of Gold in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I think Scott does right by leveraging Watney's natural sense of humor with the overwhelming helplessness of his situation.
Besides that, it's comforting to get behind the idea that mankind, when faced with a crisis, will selflessly cast aside political considerations and unite for the greater good ("The Greater Good.."). Everyone, and I mean everyone, from the noble folk at NASA (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (Benedict Wong, Donald Glover) to the dauntless Ares III crew (Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña. Kate Mara) to the selfless Chinese officials (Eddy Ko, Chen Shu) puts aside departmental infighting and geopolitical rivalries for the benefit of one stranded man.
And what a man. Watney, true to his word, sciences the [expletive deleted] out of his dire situation with uncommon certitude, aided by Damon's compelling performance and a retro sound track that, while true to the book, obviously took a chapter from Guardians of the Galaxy ("Ch. 4: Use of David Bowie in Outer Space Cinema").
Shit, Sean Bean's in this movie and he doesn't die. It doesn't get much more feel-good than that.
But ultimately I can't buy into the future Scott depicts, even if it is the least dystopic he's ever offered. The China that decides to share top-secret booster technology to aid the rescue attempt is a far cry from the current regime that [allegedly] sponsors cyber-warfare against the United States and is building artificial islands in the South China Sea for "military defense." And never mind that America's own Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness (the one that oversees NASA), the inimitable Ted Cruz, has stated he wants to both do away with the agency's climate science mission and rely less on international partners for launches.
Sending manned missions to Mars will also be, what's the word, "tricky," with repeated cuts to NASA's budget. In 1991, it was 1.05 percent of the overall federal budget. In 2014, it was .5 percent. Movies like The Martian are great speculative science fiction, but they're going to remain just that — speculative — until Americans decide they want to send real people into space as much as they want to watch a guy Rube Goldberg a potato farm in IMAX.
The Martian is in theaters today. Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.
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