October 1, 2015
'The Martian' Turns Space Into A Scientific Playground

The Martian opens tomorrow, with Matt Damon's knockout performance ready for viewing. The Martian brings new perspectives on space travel, space-based movies, and the whole idea of being stranded somewhere. The Martian takes films that reflect the horror of space, like some of Ridley Scott's earlier films, and puts them on a path to optimism. The Martian is an obvious break with his science fiction fare. The terrain appears at first familiar, but the outlook different. The Martian recalls films that show actual space missions, like Apollo 13, and celebrates the scientists.

As The Economist reports, in The Martian Matt Damon arrives on Mars, only to get hit by space shrapnel in a storm. The five members of his crew then leave and head back home, thinking him dead. Turns out he survives, and then has to figure out how to live as a martian and survive longer, until he can figure out how to let people know he's still around so they can rescue him.

The Martian Starring A Loose Matt Damon

The Martian shines on hope and humor. Where one might feel despondent, Matt Damon brushes it off with a laugh and a video blog entry. The Martian stays light and exhibits a more approachable scientist. Matt Damon's character, Mark Watney, is based on the character created by Andy Weir for his The Martian novel. Screenwriter Drew Goddard and Director Ridley Scott took The Martian ebook and translated it into a film for mass viewing. The Martian shows Matt Damon as a genius for figuring out how to cook up clever schemes and rough it in space, and still maintain the necessary mental equilibrium to forge past what could be a very long and lonely sojourn.

As for what Andy Weir was aiming at when he first wrote The Martian, he told Engadget of his inspiration and working process.

"Well man versus nature and a guy stranded alone is not a new concept. But basically... I'm a space dork, and I was plotting out how can we do a manned mission to Mars with our current technology. Not for a book or anything; it was just me on my couch.... I was working out all the details on how to get him there, keep him alive and how to get back and stuff. And I thought any mission plan needs to account for failures and problems."
In The Martian, Ridley Scott takes the cinematic territory that made him famous -- space -- and gives it color and diversity. The Martian is less the harsh, dangerous plane of Alien. It's more a scientific playground, a place for figuring how to make stuff work, and a place where giving up hope is inconceivable.

The Martian Paints Mars Pretty

The comparisons of Cast Away and The Martian can't be missed here. Perhaps Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and every major actor needs a film that has them entertaining an audience in isolation. The Martian is a more optimistic Cast Away in the age of YouTube. The film also nicely coincides with NASA's latest announcement of water on Mars, so NASA's depiction in this film serves as a PR boost for the agency. And with the quirky scientific personalities helping with the rescue effort from Earth, The Martian has enough faces and places to not dry up and get bleak or boring.

A realistic space movie with a hypothetical plot like The Martian can only serve to drive thirst towards the reemergence of Star Wars in movie theaters. It also serves to boost the endless wonderment of what lies beyond the Earth's atmosphere, and how we can potentially get there in light of a U.S. space program that has yet to return to form. The Martian sets up cinema's return to space.

[Images via 20th Century Fox]