The Bock’s Office: All systems go for ‘The Martian’
When you’re looking at red, dusty landscapes without another human being in sight, you can either get motivated or get depressed. No, I’m not talking about being in Utah, rather the do-or-die hero of “The Martian.”
If you go…
“The Martian,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 141 minutes
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels
NASA has set foot on Mars, and they’ve already begun sending crews to explore the fourth planet from the sun. During a mission known as Ares III, six astronauts touch down on the faraway world only for five to make it back to the ship when a massive sandstorm throws off their plans.
During the confusion, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is waylaid by heavy equipment and presumed dead by his colleagues. Yet, ceremonies and news coverage of the brave spaceman’s sacrifice back on Earth are premature, because he is still alive.
Surviving in the crew’s temporary artificial habitat with a dwindling number of supplies, Watney has two tasks: find a way not to starve to death and make contact with NASA.
The first is easy, thanks to his knowledge of botany and an assortment of materials that let him grow more food. The second takes some time, but once he finally gets in touch with ground control, the organization is able to plan for his rescue, which will take months even years under the best circumstances.
After all, what else could go wrong?
Damon is just right as a guy like Watney — scientifically minded and endlessly resourceful while still being an Everyman stuck millions of miles from home. It’s not his straightforward courage that makes you root for him to make it back as much as his ability to laugh at his situation amid so many obstacles.
Yes, being impaled by an antenna is bad and the threat of running out of oxygen is horrifying, but the prospect of no more ketchup is what really induces shudders.
Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña are as good as ever as Watney’s fellow astronauts, wracked with guilt over leaving him behind and wanting to do whatever they can to make it right while still being on their own return home and therefore a little preoccupied.
NASA’s head honcho is pretty hands-on about everything, at least the way Jeff Daniels plays him as a man who truly cares about getting his people back safely but doesn’t hesitate to tell the Mars mission director (Chiwetel Ejiofor) they may have to let their man die.
What a fun sell for their public relations spokeswoman (Kristen Wiig)!
Watney may be counting down the sols — the red planet equivalent of what we Earthlings call days — until human contact, but director Ridley Scott doesn’t drag out the experience for us watching. What could be “Cast Away” in space is speedily paced and gets down to business immediately. Reflective moments with our hero staring into the vast nothing — actually Hungarian filming sites — that may or may not be his doom are there but don’t eat up much time, a smart move on the part of Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard, adapting Andy Weir’s novel.
The trend of astro movies like “Gravity” and “Interstellar” that strive to be as real as possible yet don’t measure up based on expert’s predictions continues — we all probably know duct tape isn’t going to save lives as easily as it does here — but it isn’t about being real so much as being true.
A man who can create his own water to grow the first Martian potatoes isn’t going to fall to pieces on his own, and while could see Damon losing his sanity after about a month, instead he and Scott just treat it as another day in the furthest thing from paradise. At least when the only music he has handy is his commander’s disco collection.
The folks on Earth feel authentic as well, not stereotypical cold-blooded engineers and executives but people who have to weigh very drastic stakes in saving a single man with whom they can barely communicate and have their every decision scrutinized by a demanding public, still coming up with plans that only have a prayer of working.
The screenplay also crackles with warmth and humor throughout between intervals of great tension. Anyone who doesn’t at least chuckle about the fact that a meeting dubbed the Council of Elrond has Sean Bean sitting right there needs to pack their bags for Mars right now.
A story well told even with a lot of plot points of disbelief, “The Martian” is a 3-D must-see that touches on the kind of unity that should be possible with space travel and how a single person can bring a world together. 7 billion pulling for one guy to return safely feels like a future we want to have.
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