Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Martian

2015, Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise) -- cinema

The Martian was my favourite book this year and I was rather stoked it was being made into a movie. The book read like a movie, being an incredibly lean story focused on the steps of his survival and little else. It was lauded as a love story to science, but really it is quite the fantasy, despite the hard science that is under the microscope on almost every page. For one, Mark Watney is so incredibly upbeat and positive, you think he was made of antidepressants. Secondly, the idea the world would pull together to rescue a lone man from Mars is ridiculous. Had it happened in our world they would have turned off the monitors and waited for him to die. But the fact a book was written with unabashed optimism and hope was an utter delight. I just gobbled this story up with a smile on my face and chuckles out loud on the bus.

This is not Matt Damon's first time being an astronaut marooned on a planet, as he was the asshole scientist who manipulated his rescue in Interstellar, killing a man and himself in the weak willed attempt. And let's not forget Saving Private Ryan. As the meme said, the American government has invested a lot in saving Matt Damon.

But he is perfect as Watney, quick with the smile, the crude jokes & language and believable with the science talk. He's relatable. He's just a likeable guy.

If you haven't seen the trailer, he ends up stranded on Mars when a freak storm (even freakier considering Mars' air density doesn't allow such storms) slams a communications antenna into him, knocking him out and killing his suit monitor. He appears dead to the rest of the crew and they have only minutes to escape. They do. The third mission to Mars ends on a depressing note.

But he wakes up, blood having congealed enough to seal the suit, along with the shrapnel, and he is able to get to the habitat. Alive but trapped with little food and no communication, how is he going to survive the four years until the 4th Mars mission? With SCIENCE of course! This book/movie is made for all the people who love the Internet celeb of Bill Nye, who listened to Quirks & Quarks on CBC and who loved the McGyver aspects of Myth Busters.

The story condenses down to Watney figuring out how to solve those greatest problems: food (requring water) and communication. Most other needs are filled by the redundancy of the mission and most of the equipment is made to last years. Unfortunately the only collection of music he has is disco; Mark hates disco. Ridley Scott brings the greatest of the science scenes together with great flourish, but less exposition. We get he is doing sciency stuff even if we never have it explained.

And to fill in the drama, he constantly flips back to Earth and how they are dealing. In a movie that could have been made of one star, he fills the supporting cast with recognizable faces; kind of annoyingly so in making Mindy Park white (MacKenzie Davis from Halt & Catch Fire) and Kapoor being played by (*checks spelling*) Chiwetal Ejiofor instead of an Indian actor. I would have gone with Irrfan Khan, from Jurassic World. But it works; the scenes at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Labs are enthralling, as all the alpha nerds have to band together to help plan the rescue of Watney. Of particular note, was Donald Glover as the math nerd who figures out a key calculation for getting the mission ship back to Mars in time. Scott makes all of this very low key drama, very dramatic indeed. You know the end of the movie is going to be He Is Rescued but you are still carried along with the failures and recoveries.

Also, and I have mentioned my love for it before, but again we have a lovely sense of physical design going on. From Watney's spacesuit to the rover trucks to the HUDs used in the from-the-camera-view scenes where they make use of Watney's exposition -- the look & feel of the movie is just yummy. And let us not forget Fake Mars. This is the most colourful Mars we have seen before, not all red, all the time. There are gradients to the horizons and big, massive landscape shots that are really meant to inspire us to go there. I do hope that someone's Flickr feed from Mars happens in my lifetime.

I loved this movie, if you haven't gathered it yet. From a story, its all rather simplistic and doesn't have a lot of nuanced characters, nor would it have had any time to develop any. But the blatant optimism and love of ingenuity spoke to me. Yeah me, the not so optimistic guy. Can't deny I love it when I see it, because I see so little of it in real life. Go see the movie. And read the book, yet another example of a success in self publishing, which started as a blog entry!