Film review: The Martian

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, October 10th, 2015 - 13 comments
Categories: film, Media - Tags:

Space in the 1970s, in the words of Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise, was ‘the final frontier’. Star Trek’s cocky command showed the beast of developmental modernism raging for an imagined elsewhere after our earth had been largely tamed for unimpeded development. To this end the American flag now flew on the moon, as it was dreamed it would, planet by planet. Colonial modernism eternal.

“The Martian” shows this machinery of progress stretched to breaking point. Clearly from the title we get there. But once there, Murphy’s Law applies. The multiple technical and operational systems required to sustain life on a low-oxygen cold desert simply find things too hard. One line goes: “you have to solve one problem, then another, then another, or you die.”

So what it concentrates on is the human capacity to solve problems. Not as in 2001: A Space Odyssey way. And the survivalist threat to life isn’t Mad Max or Waterworld-scale naff.  You should see it because the teams cooperate. NASA, Jet Propulsion Labs, the astronauts, and the physicists work like they’re caught in a hybrid of MATHEX and The Block.

There are no aliens, no romance, no guns, no car chases, no nipples, no spies, no one gets married, there’s no fights, minimal interpersonal drama, not a single bikini-jam, and the jokes are restrained. Mothers, take your daughters. Jessica Chastain, thank you again.

You should see it because it’s the 2015 version of modernism. Every large problem needs more than one superpower to fix. Every modernist drive towards progress get so, so brittle now. We may be marginal, but we’re still good to go.

OK, the narrative clues are given away by goddam French horns. And sure, Gravity’s cinematography creams this job. Jeff Daniels (ex The Newsroom) is a log of stentorian wood. Plus, no alien bursts out of anyone’s stomach. Sigh.

Go there if you want your kids to get excited about science, problem-solving, teamwork, and brittle-state modernism.

There’s also, finally, resolution in the face of death that any polar explorer or major infrastructure team leader would express: “I’m dying for something big, and beautiful, and greater than me.”
Take that to heart, and go see it.

13 comments on “Film review: The Martian”

  1. weka 1

    Thanks Ad, a good early Saturday morning read. I’d been ho hum about seeing it but will give it a go now.

  2. TTD 2

    Well I saw it last weekend and enjoyed it.
    for a point of reference..I enjoyed Gravity too.. with the sound off.

  3. Haven’t really enjoyed heading along to the flicks in a long while, and consequently I haven’t been going. Hollywood largely seems to have perfected the art of producing bland, corporate franchised films – and the ticket prices these days are too high etc.

    That all said, I really enjoyed this film. Perhaps it’s due to my nerdy science background, but I found it highly entertaining, funny and often very beautiful. As for the film as a reflection of the current state of affairs – there’s certainly something to be said for what you’re saying. However you could also see the film as a more mature story – about the possible and achievable, rather than some fanciful extrapolation of progress towards our ‘inevitable destiny’ in the stars.

  4. Ovid 4

    I’m planning to go this afternoon. I’ve been on a bit of a space-kick over the past few months. I’m enjoying playing Kerbal Space Program, I’ve just finished reading The Right Stuff, I read The Martian – which I really enjoyed – and ordered Jim Lovell’s Apollo 13 (previously published as Lost Moon. I’m thinking about buying a telescope and getting into backyard astronomy. The success of New Horizons has helped feed this obsession too.

    Sometimes it’s good to unleash your inner 12-year-old.

  5. Ant 5

    “There are no aliens, no romance, no guns, no car chases, no nipples, no spies, no one gets married, there’s no fights, minimal interpersonal drama, not a single bikini-jam, and the jokes are restrained”

    At last something tolerably cerebral? You’ve convinced me, I’ll give it a go.

  6. millsy 6

    Hard SF is the best SF IMO.

    Will download it sometime down the track.

    I hope that before I die, I will watch an actual astronaut/cosmonaut/taikonaut place a flag on the red planet in real life. I reckon a manned mission to Mars will will provide the excitement and optimism that this world really needs.

  7. Lanthanide 7

    I had free tickets.

    I enjoyed it enough, but I think if I’d paid for it, I would have been mildly disappointed.

    Act 2 to 3 of the film has no real tension. In the book (I haven’t read it), during this same period Mark faces a setback of uncertain portent, that ends up likely being his most perilous adversity of all. In the movie it’s not there, so it feels like you’re just counting down the clock. They kept some of the dialogue and concepts from this part of the book in the movie, and consequently they don’t make a lot of sense (not in a bad way, but just a head-scratching ‘huh – what is that for?’ kind of way).

    As much as everyone is praising it for being hard SF, there were some really bone-headed decisions they made in the space sequences, and they really didn’t pay enough attention to martian gravity. But if you’re not aware of how these things ‘should be’, then you probably won’t notice.

  8. Colville. 8

    3D or not 3D that is the question 🙂

  9. infused 9

    Question is, are you going to download it or go see it at the movies. Because downloading doesn’t affect anyone, apparently.

    Me, i’ll be watching it in cineramas tomorrow night.

    • millsy 9.1

      Ill be downloading it — but not yet. Usually the rubbish copies are on the torrent sites immediately when a movie is released.

  10. Tanz 10

    Saw it the other night and was bored by it. The disco soundtrack is good, but over two hours of watching someone growing veggies on Mars…intercut by Jeff Bridges being the boss of Nasa…boring. Give me Alien any day of the week, everything that The Martian is not!! For one, exciting and nail-biting from start to finish…

    • Ovid 10.1

      I think it’s different strokes for different folks. Castaway crossed with Apollo 13 is the most common description I’ve heard for it. After watching it, I’m inclined to agree. I quite enjoyed it. Although the Council of Elrond scene did take me out of the moment a bit.

  11. Brian 11

    I found it predictable and boring. The permanently upbeat demeanour of the main character is so unbelievable that it destroys any real engagement and denies any development – ” I’m 50 million miles from home with nothing but disco music for company and I’m growing potatoes in my own shit – but hey – I’m happy! ”

    5 for the effects

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