I feel like hard sci-fi movies have been getting progressively better over the last few years. First there was Gravity, which was visually beautiful but annoyed a lot of science geeks by not doing its research. Then there was Interstellar, which got the science right (and was even more visually beautiful), but got a little too ambitious with its story. Now we have The Martian, which is an unqualified gift from God to nerds everywhere.
Before I begin explaining what’s so great about this movie, I must confess that I have not read the original novel by Andy Weir. It’s been on my reading list since before I even knew there was a movie coming out, but, well…I have a long reading list. I will definitely make it a higher priority after seeing the film.
Because everything about The Martian made me happy. From the opening shot of the Martian landscape (so much better than that “Explore Mars” app on Google Earth that I used to waste time on) to “I Will Survive” playing over the end credits, there was not a single moment I didn’t like. And we’re talking about a loooonnngg movie here.
In case you haven’t seen it, the plot is simple: Astronaut Mark Watney, one of the first people to explore Mars, gets hit by debris while his crew is evacuating during a severe storm. Thinking him dead, the rest of the astronauts reluctantly leave him behind. But Mark, aka Jason Bourne, is not dead, and he is determined to stay that way, despite being marooned on a planet with no air and with no way to contact NASA.
So in some ways, the rest of the movie plays out like Robinson Crusoe in space, except that while Robinson Crusoe was an unforgivably boring book about building houses and fishing, this is an exciting story about…well, growing potatoes and talking in code. But trust me, it actually is exciting. Because it’s on freaking Mars, where humans are not meant to survive and anything can go wrong at a moment’s notice, and it does. Never has growing potatoes looked so much like a Bourne-worthy stunt. Plus, the folks on Earth eventually figure out Mark is still alive, so part of the movie is about their equally odds-defying efforts to rescue him.
And as for the science–NASA has been actively promoting this movie, so I think it’s safe to say at least some of the survival methods it shows will actually be part of the first manned mission to Mars. They’re shown and explained in such detail that this could almost be a how-to guide for those astronauts, in case they get stuck.
Best of all, everyone who is supposed to be a scientist (which is literally everyone in the movie) acts and talks like a scientist. Which is to say, they take a ridiculous amount of joy and pride in their work, and they’re not ashamed to show it. That’s an aspect of scientific people that I think doesn’t get conveyed on screen often enough. Every scientist I’ve ever met LOVES being a scientist and will burst into gleefully nerdy rants at the slightest provocation. That’s exactly how they act in this movie.
And that’s what really makes it great. The Martian is very intense at times (and there’s a gory scene at the beginning that is not for the faint of heart), but it manages to keep a light-hearted tone even through the most extreme life-or-death situations. Part of this is due to Mark’s sense of humour, since he narrates a good portion of the movie through his video logs. No matter what Mars throws at him, he responds by stating the problem and how awful it is, and then saying something along the lines of “I am gonna science the *bleep* outta this.” (Actual dialogue.) Honestly, what with Mark’s reliance on duct tape, his tendency to blow stuff up, and his relentlessly cheerful outlook, I sometimes felt like I was watching a really intense episode of Mythbusters.
Throw in the gem of a moment when Sean Bean explains why the secret meeting he’s a part of has been codenamed Elrond (also, Sean Bean survives this movie! It’s a miracle!), and all the disco music a Guardians of the Galaxy fan can stomach, and you’ve got your nerdy self an early Christmas present. This movie is magical.