In a plausible near future, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of the research mission ARES III, part of a five-mission effort to explore Mars. But Mars is a hostile planet and when a massive sandstorm blows up with just a few minutes warning, the entire crew scrambles into the MAV, the Mars Ascent Vehicle, desperate to take off and rendezvous with the orbiting station a few hundred miles above the planet. The short journey from the explorer’s habitat to the MAV is fraught with danger as the storm increases in ferocity and in the blink of an eye an antenna is torn from its mount and slams into Watney, pushing him into the darkness and destroying his suit electronics box.
Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) can’t wait, and with a crushing sense of defeat, she commands that the ship take off, abandoning Watney’s body to the Martian surface.
But Watney isn’t dead. He’s been abandoned on an unfriendly planet, without communications gear and with only enough life support gear and food to last a few months. Except it’s going to be years before NASA can get another manned mission to Mars to rescue him.
That’s the central theme of ‘The Martian’: NASA Botanist Watney having nothing but his own ingenuity and the junk left from the ARES mission to salvage and utilize to keep himself alive until he can, eventually, be rescued. And it’s a splendid film, far more amusing than expected, and gripping in its sparse narrative.
In an era of science fiction films being alarmingly sparse on science, it’s also a wonderful tale of scientific adventure, of the revenge of the nerds. As Watney puts it early in his stay on Mars, the only way he’s going to be able to survive is the “science the sh*t out of it.” And we’re rooting for him as he invents solutions to the problems he confronts and overcomes the failures that ensue.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, NASA satellite photo analyst Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) notices an aberration and after bringing it to the attention of her supervisor, Vincent Kapoor (a splendid Chiwetel Ejiofor), they realize that Watney isn’t dead. But NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) has a dilemma when he learns the truth: do they share the news with the world if there’s a much greater chance of him dying before they can rescue him? More to the point, Lewis and her ARES III crew of Martinez (Michael Peña), Johanssen (Kate Mara), Vogel (Aksel Hennie) and Beck (Sebastian Stan) are traveling back to Earth under the shadow of Watney’s death: Does Sanders tell them he’s alive? Ares Mission Commander Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) certainly thinks so.
The book by Andy Weir was a surprise hit and excellent read, fast-paced, meaty and thoughtful, with a surprising amount of humor. That humor has been retained in a very faithful translation of the book to the big screen by experienced director Ridley Scott.
There’s also something very “Robinson Crusoe” about the tale of ‘The Martian’ too, a satisfying hero’s journey of a man facing the elements and having to rely on his wits and ingenuity to survive. It’s one heck of a tale and has become a really great movie, incredibly entertaining, funny as heck at many points, and quite exciting even thru the last few minutes.
Go see it. You’ll love it!