Now Showing: ‘The Martian’


Watney (Matt Damon,) though alone, marvels at the beauty of the planet he is stranded on.

Lilly Ball, Editor in Chief

“Gravity” may have won many Oscars, and “Interstellar” may have featured some amazing cinematography, but famed director Ridley Scott has finally blessed audiences with an accessible space film.

In his latest (and possibly greatest) film, “The Martian,” Scott manages to evade the mistakes of previous space-epic directors. He didn’t waste any time meddling with over excessive special effects, but instead manages to transform the barren surface of Mars into the perfect setting for a heartwarming and dramatic tale of human survival. With an eclectic cast of prominent actors who bring an emotional reality to their characters, “The Martian” is charming, suspenseful and, most importantly, honest.

We are first introduced to the crew of the Ares 3 manned mission to Mars as they face a potentially catastrophic storm on the planet. In order to protect her crew members, mission commander Melissa Lewis, (Jessica Chastain) is forced to prematurely end the mission. As the crew is leaving, one of the members, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is struck by debris and separated from the crew. Assuming that he did not survive the incident, the crew regrettably leaves him behind on Mars, as they begin their long journey home.

Unbeknownst to his crew members, Watney survives (although impaled by an antenna) and awakes in the dust after the storm ends. After making it back to habitat and removing the antenna, Watney quickly begins to formulate a survival plan. He has no contact with Earth, and assumes that his next ticket home is the Ares 4 mission, which will land in three years. After realizing how limited his food supply is, Watney utilizes his skills as a botanist to grow potato plants out of Martian soil,  while documenting his entire struggle through an intimate series of video diaries. Back on Earth, NASA scrambles to please the public, holding a funeral service for Watney and conducting multiple press conferences. Once they realize that Watney is alive, head of NASA Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) immediately start planning a mission to resupply Watney, as all of the world watches. Watney eventually gains contact with NASA, through a series of instant messages. The interactions between Watney and Earth are particularly hilarious, and chock full of explicit language. When various complications arise both on Mars and Earth, astrodynamicist Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) comes up with a plan that just might work.

Space may be a vast and empty frontier, but the format of the story allows intimacy between the main character and viewer. Being alone on the deserted planet, Watney has no companions other than the audience. The video diaries show us Watney’s charm and wit, while also revealing his true feelings about his situation. Damon faced the particularly difficult challenge of having to act on his own for the majority of the film, but never before have I felt more sympathy for a character. And it’s not just Damon—all the actors are perfectly cast.  The film features many stars within its racially diverse cast, but from Sean Bean to Benedict Wong, they all perform magnificently.

Screenwriter Drew Goddard, known for “Lost,” faced the formidable task of adapting Andy Weir’s best-selling novel for the big screen, but didn’t allow any of the substance to be lost in translation. (Though he did change the journal format of the novel by switching it out for video diaries.)  The script and plot of the film are straightforward. There is no demeaning overflow of scientific information that confuses audience members; everything is explained, and for the most part, is realistic.

Though the situation that Watney finds himself in is incredibly tragic, Goddard refused to let the film’s overall tone become somber. Watney motivates himself through appropriately timed humor, and “awful” disco music, but the film still manages to have its moments of extreme suspense.

Science geeks and space fanatics alike may both enjoy the science fiction aspects of the film, but in the end, the strongest point that “The Martian” makes is about being human. Watney may be physically alone on Mars, but back on Earth, he has the support of the entire NASA team, the American public, and an unlikely foreign government. The world is rooting him on, and every character focuses all of their energy on helping him the best they can. “The Martian” will almost certainly make you laugh, but it will also cause you to cheer on a fictional character like never before.