I just saw the movie, the Martian last night. I did not think that I would be able to see it this soon but someone from NASA Ames gave me a ticket an hour before the show so I went for it. As someone who designs space systems whom many of you who read this know, you might expect me to dig into and be critical about flaws in the technical details of the movie. Not going to happen.
To me, if one word was required to describe “The Martian”, it would be beautiful. Interestingly, earlier in the day I had seen an image from Mars, taken by the Curiosity rover. It is reproduced below. When you blow it up and look at it on the screen, Mars is beautiful, in the Death Valley kinda way, and The Martian captures this beauty perfectly.
Compare this to a picture I took in Death Valley a few years ago.
I love to go 4×4 ing in the desert. To be out where you can look for miles and see nothing but sand, rocks, and mountains, to look up in the sky at the starkly beautiful stars at night. That is where I was at when watching The Martian. I could imagine myself driving the rover, sitting on top of the ledge where Mark was above where the encampment was, on the ridge where he was walking while on his drive. There were times while on his drive that Mark laid underneath the rover or leaning up against the front wheel. In the movie when he was driving at night, you could see the stars in the film, brilliantly providing a backdrop for his driving. I spent two seasons with NASA’s Desert RATS team in Northern Arizona, with their rovers, habitation units and other toys and it brought back those memories. All of it was beautiful. here is a picture of the NASA rover in Arizona driving on the red dirt on a lava flow that I took in 2009.
Then for Mark himself, as played by Matt Damon, it was perfection. He understood his predicament. Little commented on by others but it was three days after the accident before Mark started thinking beyond his doom and started planning to live. He was methodical, and like Robinson Cruso or Tom Hanks on the island with the soccer ball, he had to find ways to keep himself company. Hilariously, and as in the book, it was with old 70’s sitcoms and disco music.
Indeed the entire movie was understated emotionally, at least until the end. The NASA people, even in violent disagreement, did not come across as drama queens. In terms of tone I liken The Martian to be like the 1969 movie “Marooned“. (Check the link). However, in The Martian, you did not get the over dramatization that characterized that movie or a lot of other Sci-Fi epics where people are in danger and everyone gets hysterical. That lack of over dramatization was refreshing. They also did not drag out the scenes of danger excessively. Thank God in heaven that Peter Jackson did not do the movie with that running in the ground drawing out of the cinematographical drama.
At the end, the drama was greater as one would expect, and it was done well. The sort of postscript that is not in the book but worked well in the movie was extremely well done and provided a rounding out of the story that was extremely satisfying.
All in all my favorite Sci-Fi movie in a long time.