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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Martian

Good science and science fiction, too

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 13, 2015 -- This movie (based on Andy Weir's 2011 novel of the same name) is kind of a throwback to old school science fiction in that it has a lot of real science in it and it is all about that old “can do” attitude of using brainpower to solve life or death engineering and technical problems involved in space travel.

Back when I was an aspiring science fiction writer, a sci-fi magazine editor told me 50 years ago that science fiction was all about dealing with engineering problems, just like those in this movie, so this really is old school. The idea of being stranded on other planets, including Mars, isn't new either. That's been done before in recent films, including “Mission to Mars” (2000). In fact Matt Damon, who stars in this movie as an astronaut stranded on Mars, was stranded on another planet just last year in “Interstellar.” Certain parts of this story are almost identical to some story elements in “Red Planet” (2000).

While this movie isn't as good as Interstellar, the science is more believable and the story is certainly a lot more straightforward and understandable, especially for the non-geeks amongst us. This is a well-constructed movie with some solid performances by Damon, along with Jessica Chastain (who was also in “Interstellar”) Kristen Wiig (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) Jeff Daniels (“Looper”) Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) and others.

The story starts out with a big wind storm on Mars that forces the evacuation of a scientific expedition there. The ship blasts off in an emergency situation without one of its crew members, Mark Watney (Damon) who is thought to have died in the storm. Because of time and condition constraints, the crew is unable to confirm the death of the man left behind.

Watney survives, but is unable to use the radio equipment in the station to contact anyone. Even if he can contact earth, he has only a limited supply of food. He cannot last long enough for a rescue mission to come for him. Being a botanist, he comes up with a way to grow food on Mars, and having a good understanding of chemistry, he figures out a way to get enough water to keep those plants growing. He still has to find a way to communicate with earth.

Back on earth, a bureaucratic battle is being fought over Whatley's fate between NASA administrator Teddy Sanders (Daniels) and others who want to take a safer approach, and others who are less risk averse. Sanders decides not to tell the crew, on their way back to earth, about the fact that Whatley has survived on Mars. Mitch Henderson (played by Sean Bean of the “Lord of the Rings” films) is directly opposed to Sanders' decision to keep the spaceship crew out of the loop, and this whole top-down approach. He eventually rebels against his bosses.

In the end, it is up to the crew of the spaceship, millions of miles from earth, to decide whether or not to attempt a risky rescue of Whatley, who is running out of time to survive on the red planet. The story is dramatic and compelling.

Although the story is filled with very serious life-and-death decisions, there is a fair amount of humor in it as well, including one notable movie insider joke. A secret meeting, jokingly dubbed the “Council of Elrond” is held at NASA to discuss the Mars situation, including Henderson. This reference to The Lord of the Rings is a nod to Sean Bean, who played Boromir in The Lord of the Rings movies. This puts Sean Bean in the unique position of having attended a Council of Elrond in two very different movies as two very different characters, and he even gets to show he is in on the joke. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)