TIFF 2015 Review | ‘The Martian’ Sciences All The Science
In a world increasingly ruled by geeks, and with an iron fist no less, it is a pleasant change of pace that one of the best big budget movies of the year has been made for nerds. Please note the distinction: traditionally speaking, “geeks” obsess over fantasies, and “nerds” obsess over science. And although it takes place in the future, there really isn’t any fantasy element in The Martian unless you count having an entire planet to yourself with nothing to do on it but more science (and that’s just about the nerdiest fantasy of all).
Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a member of an all-star team of Mars scientists who is accidentally left for dead in the middle of an emergency evacuation. As the world mourns his apparent passing, Mark sets about the task of solving the enormous problem of how to stay alive on Mars when nothing else ever has. Fortunately, he’s got a big beautiful brain full of useful facts involving hydrogen, radiation, solar panels and human poo, and the uncanny ability to turn one giant unsolvable puzzle into a series of smaller, yet manageable tasks.
Months later, when NASA finally decides to survey Mars again, they discover that Watney is alive. After the shock sets in they set about the task of solving another enormous problem: now what? They can’t communicate with Watney and a rescue ship won’t be ready to launch for years. The whole world starts working together to bring Watney home, and Watney doesn’t even know it yet.
The only solution to all of these problems is science, and a whole hell of a lot of it. The Martian plays like a protracted scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the kind where the screenwriters wrote themselves into a massive hole and only technobabble could get the Enterprise crew out of it. Somehow, thanks to a deft adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), that makes for truly gripping drama. Clever cross-cutting between desperate NASA and JPL brainiacs and Watney, alone and increasingly eccentric, play not unlike the opening act of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, except Ferris could die at any moment and he’s growing potatoes in his own feces. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
Smarter individuals than I can poke holes in the math, and maybe they will, but the events of The Martian sound plausible enough to the layperson that the whole movie comes across as genuinely believable. The odds must be overcome in order to rescue Mark Watney, if such a rescue is even possible, but the victories seem based on thoughtful nerdery instead of cheap screenwriting gibberish. Watney reroutes the thingamajiggers into the whosamawhatsits in order to hussafuh the shabadoo, except you replace those with real words, and let Ridley Scott loose to direct his best film in years.
Watching The Martian provides one with a tangible sense of hope, that maybe our great minds working together could solve our most unsolvable dilemmas. Maybe, one imagines after watching The Martian, mankind really will be okay someday. Provided of course that we give all the nerds an unlimited budget, and make a charming hunk like Matt Damon their spokesperson.
Images via 20th Century Fox
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.