THE MARTIAN: RIDLEY IS BACK

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Last night I went to the movies to see The Martian positive I will like it. I was feeling positive because I always feel positive when it comes to the movies of Ridley Scott. This is the man who made Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, The Duelists, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster, Black Hawk Down, and perhaps one of my favorite good-feel movies A Good Year. And to be honest, even when he makes terrible films like G. I. Jane I cant say it is s*it. Yes, the last two were not really great. At best they were average if not really bad to be honest. But then came The Martian and with it Ridley Scott we used to know.

THE PLOT

When the Ares III manned mission to Mars is hit by an intense storm, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is lost and presumed dead. With the lives of her crew at stake, mission commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to leave the planet, which meant she was leaving Watney behind believing he is dead.

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However, he has survived but his communications equipment didn’t. Unable to contact NASA, he uses his knowledge as a botanist to grow food within the mission’s artificial habitat, anticipating that he will need to survive for at least three years and journey to the landing site of Ares IV, which already has some of its infrastructure on Mars and is due to happen in that span of time. He keeps a series of video logs to maintain morale and begins to modify the habitat’s rover to make it capable of long journeys. Reviewing satellite photos of Mars, NASA engineers Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davies) realize that Watney has survived, and immediately start planning to establish contact. Without giving much away, we follow three narratives: 1) Mark on Mars, trying to use problem solving and creative engineering to survive, 2) Crew of Ares III on their way back home, half way between Mars and Earth and 3) NASA’s headquarters trying to help Mark from home.

SHOUT-OUT TO THE GEEKS

The film is packed with popular culture references. However, there are two that were absolutely hilarious. I see them as a form of a shout-out to all the wonderful geeks living across the world. Following Benedict Anderson’s discussions about the nation and its false construct one has no other way but to question his affiliation to the people he shares only geographical birthplace with. This film has strangely brought on the same question for me. And it was due to these two references. While watching them I felt truly happy because it made me belong. Something I haven’t felt in a long time. I also wondered how many of my fellow citizens will laugh at the same things, drawing the same parallels Ridley Scott has clearly set up for us, because at the movies not many did. Having said that, it made me realize that all those people across the world who did are also a part of my nation, my family, including Ridley Scott.

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During the Hermes’ attempt to rescue Mark, when things go wrong and distance is still insurmountable, he suggests something even crazier than the rescue mission planned – that he should cut the hole in the palm of his suit using the pressure needed for acceleration and possible reduction of distance. This decision is what turns him into the actual Iron Man. Literally. To make things even funnier and better, his crew includes Marvel Studio stars Sebastian Stan aka Winter Soldier, Michael Pena aka Luis from Ant-Man and Fox’s Invisible Woman aka Kata Mara. At one point, Sebastian Stan (Chris Beck), who is waiting for Mark and Lewis at the dock helping them get back to the ship, cheers on Mark with” “Go Iron Man!” which adds another layer to this referencing since Captain America: Civil War is due to arrive next year with the Winter Soldier on the Iron Man opposing side.

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Although this was grand, the biggest and the funnies geeking out came a bit earlier in the movie when we visited the meeting of Project Elrond, named after the Lord of the Rings’s grand meeting in Rivendell where the faith of the ring became known and the Fellowship of the Ring was created. It was a scene mid way through the film during which NASA’s best and brightest held a secret meeting to discuss how to save Mark. Among them, a part from Vincent Kapoor, Mindy Park, Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig) NASA’s spokesperson and Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), the head of the NASA was also Mitch Handerson, NASA mission director played by none other than Sean Bean, aka Boromir himself. And the best part? Since Annie Montrose doesn’t quite get the joke or why is everybody finding the name Elrond funny it is Boromir who explains it to her. Duh!

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LOVED IT! But still not as much as I loved the constant joke about how terrible it must be to get stuck on Mars as the ONLY person on the planet who is constantly the first at something: first to wake up on Mars; first man to grow potatoes on Mars; first man on Mars to stand on this rock; first to come to this place; first to drive that distance and as if that was not already enough you are stuck there all alone with nothing but the disco music to listen. Courtesy of the commander Lewis the greatest fan of the worst band that ever existed, the ABBA. Imagine the horror!

WHERE INTERSTELLAR FAILED THE MARTIAN SUCCEEDED

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First of all The Martian is reasonably scientifically accurate. Yes the winds on Mars are apparently not that strong. They were made stronger in the film for dramatic purposes which is completely fine and a minor detail as far as I am concerned. Then there is the problem of cold, which renders Mark’s original plan to ride around in his rover without heater invalid. Also, gravity is not really accurate but it doesn’t cripple the film. The duct tape on Watney’s cracked helmet apparently works. And yes the process of creating the water same way Mark did is accurate and being used by NASA. The radioisotope thermoelectric generator, used for heat, also accurate. If you are interested in more science accuracy of The Martian check out this page.

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Apart from science, where The Martian also succeeded is the soundtrack. Here, you can actually hear all the dialogues as well  as Mark’s monologues. A part from the music composed directly for this film there is a lot of disco, which makes the suffering of our main character even grander. We felt for him when he woke up alive, stranded and all alone on the Red Planet with not enough food to survive until the next mission. But we felt even more once we learned that ABBA and disco is pretty much the only musical option he has. I would go mad after a week let alone months or years.

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Also, The Martian is not pathetic. It is a thrilling rescue mission adventure that doesn’t suffer from the metaphysical and emotional traps of Interstellar. It doesn’t suffer from cheesy lines. It has no plot holes. It is smart. It is simple. It is funny. It is beautiful. It is not pretentious. It doesn’t fashion itself as the most epic space film ever made. It is down to Earth and its cast is universally great. Matt Damon. Oh well, I love Matt Damon. As Iron Man, even more.

4/5

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