HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED to know: Watching Ridley Scott’s latest film, “The Martian,” is tons of fun, and might even warrant a second viewing. (Next time I’m going with the 3-D version.) Except for a gruesome scene early on where he performs surgery on himself, actor Matt Damon is his usual cheery self despite horrible odds in this fairy tale about an astronaut who mistakenly gets left behind and presumed dead on Mars.
Matt Damon channels Clint Eastwood as he surveys his new digs on pretend Mars.
As Mark Watney, a brilliant botanist facing four years alone on the red planet until the next scheduled NASA mission could possibly rescue him, his preposterous problem-solving abilities would put physicist Stephen Hawking to shame. In addition to his surgical skills, Watney figures out how to grow food and make water, thus staving off certain death. (Chances are if he had enough time he’d figure out how to remove a rib and make himself a woman.) And besides saying the F-word several times, he maintains a positive attitude throughout that is almost too hard to believe. But then so is the whole movie, where everything always works and if it doesn’t, a little duct tape fixes it right up. (Smiley face!)
Never fear, there’s more to this story than life on Mars. Back on Earth, a puffy-faced Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA leads a team of kooky, nerdy scientists bent on bringing Watney home after a random ping on a computer alerts them to the fact that he’s still alive. And led by a dour Jessica Chastain as their boss, his original crew mates, now heading home on their super-cool Lego spaceship, scrappily jump at the chance to participate in Watney’s rescue, even though it means another 500-plus days away from their families. But hey– no problem, what with all the video chatting, time literally flies by.
There are lots of floating astronauts, giant computer screens at NASA headquarters and enormous panoramas of a desolate landscape that looks like a cross between certain parts of Utah and a video game. And despite an underlying feeling that something bad is about to befall our hero, it doesn’t. Complicated equipment that has been buried under the sand for years springs to life in minutes; all you gotta do is dust everything off and plug this tube here into that hole there, and voila–it’s a Martian miracle! Nope, it’s just Hollywood at its finest, and definitely worth the price of admission.
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.