Just the other day I watch the film The Martian on DVD having missed it at the cinema and had the DVD for months without having had chance to watch it.
The story hinges around scientist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) left behind on Mars after a freak storm forces the Aries 3 landing team to abort the mission. In the rush to evacuate Watney is injured and separated from the team, with the data from his suit indicating that he is dead they leave without him, presuming he is dead. Watney wakes having been impaled by a mechanical part, which has destroyed his bio sensor (hence why his suit indicated he had died) and also sealed his suit – keeping him alive.
He gets back to the mission habitation module and starts planning how he’s going to stay alive until the next Aries mission arrives, he pins his hopes on being able to ration the food he has, grow more food and hope he can keep the life support functions operational. He also has to work out how to make his rover vehicle travel a huge distance to the Aries 4 landing site. The rover was only designed to travel around 30 miles, some few thousand miles short.
If this wasn’t enough, Watney needs to work out how he can communicate with NASA so they know he’s still alive. Meanwhile back on Earth they hold a memorial service for him and it’s only after this that images showing the rover has changed location tell NASA that Watney isn’t dead after all.
What follows is a story of courage, determination, survival, problem solving the shit out of everything as Watney takes one step forward and three steps back before he is finally rescued in what is probably the most ad-hoc fly by the seat of your pants rocket launch ever.
The things I liked
I liked the pace and the variety of the film, much of it was about Watney realising each of the problems he faced and one after the other solving them. One of the key moments for this was Watney growing potatoes inside the habitat module, and the magic of the moment he found the first plant growing.
There were moments of helpless humour, blowing himself cross the room with a hydrogen flame, falling through the roof of the rover as he jumps on it trying to punch a hole through the roof. This is many senses is a very human story – we don’t have the hero making everything right and the whole thing running smoothly. He makes mistakes and learns from them, tries again and again to get to where he needs to be.
One of the surprises in the cast was seeing Sean Bean in it. I was wondering why this was as usually the Brit in a film is the bag guy. In a tiny little way you can kind of see a bad guy as he causes the crew of the Hermes to mutiny in order to rescue Watney.
But for me the reason why he was in this film was for one line. When the engineers are explaining how they’re going to save 5000kgs from the launch module, they have just finished explaining that all of the extra seat and the control modules have to go – the spacecraft being controlled remotely from the Hermes. The NASA official in dumbfounded at which point Bean’s line of “He hasn’t got the best part yet!” is slipped in. This kind or irony comes best from a Brit and it’s for that reason that Sean Bean is in this film I think – it magic and had me in stitches!
The things that were like “come on…”
When a spacecraft is orbiting a planet and at some point you need to make it home in a rush – it doesn’t happen. There is a window for which a spacecraft returns home, when a mission has been cut short you don’t suddenly pop home at a few hours notice. The fact that main spacecraft the Hermes had left Mars for Earth within a day of evacuating is to me the thinnest part of the story. I see why it had to happen, as without it there wouldn’t have been a story but in reality they would likely have been there months before heading back to Earth.
Also – the 8 minutes it takes radio signals to travel to / from Earth seems to have been forgotten about – ok, I don’t want to watch 8 minutes of delay, but this wasn’t even indicated.
Finally and many of the films get this wrong – the mission commander get’s suited and booted into her space suit in literally seconds at the end when they need to grab Watney from floating away. It’s nail biting for sure, but it takes (apparently) over an hour to get into a spacesuit. I can forgive it to a point as it’s 2035 or something and it’s the future, but so far in 50 odd years they’ve not yet solved that problem.
Lastly on this, Watney needed to remove the nose cone of the launcher in order to escape, the cone (even under Mars’s light gravity) seems to weigh a huge amount. Is that right? Surely it would be a lightweight metal or composite?
This film raises a few points for me:
- Watney reels off a set of legal facts during the film where he realises that he is in fact a pirate – the first human space pirate. This is to do with the legal system not yet accounting for exo-planet activity as such maritime law takes over. My point is… how useless is the legal system in reality?
- The crew of the Hermes mutiny against NASA to save Watney. In reality, once humans leave Earth orbit, orders from command become worthless and in reality only the people on a mission are really in charge of themselves. Orders in reality are pointless and merely guidelines.
- The reality of a real Mars mission is it has to be treated as one way only and has to be self sufficient. This is going to be an immense challenge, but one that can benefit all of mankind.
This is a really good film, being into scifi and an engineer also it really speaks to many things I find interesting. To me this was a film to entertain and to appeal to many genre’s and cultures. Because of this I personally think that much of the mood of isolation and desperation was lost in favour of a commander with crap taste in music and creating problems that didn’t really exist.
This is all minor to me though, because I think if much of this had been done it would have made the film less popular and guess what – it has to make money. But, there were some magical scenes of Watney sitting on the martian surface looking out at the landscape, it was pretty epic and captured a feeling very close to isolation.
Because this was a good film with so much to it – I will be watching it again and praying they don’t make The Martian II – Damn we left the bugger behind again!