The Martian: sci-fi can still be good!

I spend a lot of time on this blog criticising bad sci-fi. And whilst I enjoy writing those blog posts, I’m not doing it because I’m a burning ball of hate desperate to denigrate everything in my path. In fact, I was getting a little sad that a genre I loved so much didn’t seem to have turned out a good film in years. Then The Martian came along, and my faith was restored.

I have to admit I was sceptical at first. At some point during Interstellar’s twenty hour runtime, I’d seen Matt Damon go insane because he’d been left on an alien planet for too long. Was this going to be more of the same? Well, yes, in some senses – Matt Damon is left to fend for himself in the harsh environment of planet Mars – but this time around, it’s actually good.

This isn’t a film about epic alien space fleets, giant nuclear bombs or temporal paradoxes. Instead, it’s the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars when his crewmates have to stage a rapid evacuation during a storm. Unwilling to just give up and die, Watney decides to “science the hell out of this”, and uses his skills as a botanist and mechanical engineer to survive, contact Earth, and await the arrival of the next Mars rocket.

Matt Damon shines in this role, bringing us a character who is likeable, humorous, and believably human – a smart and resourceful person who nonetheless can still make stupid mistakes with the best of them. Some days he is convinced he is going to die, but largely Watney is upbeat and committed to his goal of survival, even when it means backbreaking work and a diet of potatoes.

It’s not just two hours of Watney on Mars, though – a lot of time is spent at NASA as the best and brightest figure out how to bring their lost astronaut home, and even some time on the spaceship that left Watney behind in the first place. Plenty of good actors lend their talents to the film, and although there isn’t time to flesh out everyone’s backstory from the book, all the characters are portrayed well.

Perhaps surprisingly for me, I don’t even feel the need to pick any holes in the physics of this film. Yes, there were some “near future” technologies, and I’m sure not everything was perfect, but overall it felt believable and well-researched. What’s more, I was too absorbed in the film to want to nitpick any small flaws I found along the way – in fact, the main thing that concerned me was how Watney managed to go two years without any toothpaste!

In fact, maybe none of my usual rules apply to this film; due to scheduling issues, I actually saw the 3D version at the cinema, and even though I usually eschew 3D for being a pointless gimmick, this was one film that really benefited from it – it really added to the feeling of being with Watney on the surface of Mars.

Final Thoughts: A splendid sci-fi film and one that I would happily watch again.

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