Just been watching…(69)

The Martian. (2015)

I came late to this film. I have never read the best-selling book it was based on, but I was aware that most people loved the film, and at least 99% of the reviews I read praised it highly. Yesterday, I had time for watching films, and this was the second one in a day, following ‘Detroit’. After ‘Red Planet’, ‘Mission To Mars’, and the forgettable ‘Ghosts of Mars’, I was a little Marsed-out, to be honest. I am also not a huge fan of ‘space mission’ films, as they usually follow a well-worn formula.
And here is that formula.

Space films formula.
1) A mixed bag of a crew; one funny character, at least two women, and one very brave person.
2) Loved ones left worrying at home, usually seen via some video link, or waiting nervously around Mission Control.
3) A NASA boss who breaks the rules to save his crew.
4) Or a NASA boss who refuses to break those rules, but one of his rebellious employees does.
5) A techy nerd who saves the day with a plan that nobody thinks can work.
6) Lots of ‘oh no’ moments, disasters followed by last-minute relief as plans work.
7) Someone gets left behind, or dies on the mission, and everyone blames themselves.
8) Oxygen almost runs out.
9) Space suits get punctured.
10) Something mechanical goes wrong, or an explosion. That means someone has to go outside the craft.
11) Someone drifts away, perhaps to be saved at the last second, or not.
12) There has to be a lot of cheering and high-fiving in the huge control room, as everyone stands up from their screens in delight as something good happens. That has to happen a lot.

Given the 12 rules of Space Films, what about this one?

It’s basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars, absent a Man Friday companion. Someone (Matt Damon) gets left behind, believed dead, during a tense escape from the planet during a storm. Lots of sad faces and some tears, as the survivors make the long journey back to Earth. But wait! He isn’t dead, as we the viewers discover. He uses all his skills and technical know-how to survive alone on Mars. He grows food (well, potatoes), adapts vehicles, works everything out systematically and mathematically, and just refuses to lay down and die. For our benefit, he keeps a video log, filling us in on all the details so we know what’s going on.

Back in the control room, nobody is jumping up and down, not yet anyway. Then a dedicated young woman spots a clue on the satellite images. Matt is using solar panels, and his vehicle is moving around too. Yay! He must be alive! Cue lots of standing up and cheering, high-fives, and huge relief. But hang on, they have told everyone he is dead, and a nation is mourning his loss. Oops! They need to come up with a plan to save him, as he has only so many days of food left, and Mars is a very long way, let’s face it.

Then Matt has another great idea. He digs up an old communication satellite, and gets it working in no time. Communication is established, hooray! More jumping and cheering, even more high-fives.

OK, sarcasm over.

When the film is ‘on Mars’, it is entertaining indeed. Damon’s efforts to grow food, repair things, and simply survive are all very believable, given that he is a strong person, physically and mentally, as well as being a tech-savvy qualified astronaut, and a skilled botanist. He holds the screen in his one-handed role, and we are all rooting for him, undoubtedly. Moments of tension are not overplayed, and even those expected disasters are low-key, and plausible. And a nice touch is that the only music left for him to listen to is Disco, and he hates Disco. But the other half of the film just follows that 12-point formula, and cannot seem to shake those Space Film tropes. And once it comes to the climax, they throw in everything mentioned in points 1-12, leaving nothing out, not one.
And that cheering and high-fiving in the control, room? Oh yes, lots of that. Lots.

Mars looks good, and Damon is on top form as Watney, the lone survivor. The technical stuff is explained so well, even I understood it. More importantly, I believed it was possible, whether it is or not. But some strange casting decisions really made me edgy. Sean Bean as a crumpled-looking English mission controller at NASA, (why?) Jeff Daniels playing the head of NASA as if he is the President of The United States. Jessica Chastain looks uncomfortable as the commander of the original mission, and Michael Pena just didn’t work for me as an astronaut, maybe because he has played so many wise-cracking cops, soldiers, or crooks.

It’s a film of two halves, in every way imaginable. But I only liked one half.

32 thoughts on “Just been watching…(69)

  1. Great post ๐Ÿ™‚ The Martian was good, but I do not know If I would call it great let alone close to it. As for Mission to Mars, I actually love that film. The way director Brian de Palma set up each sequence was just amazing. Anyway, keep up the great work as always ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved it when it came out, and re-watched it not too long ago and loved it again. It follows the formula completely, but pulls it off in style (in my opinion of course). On the strength of Damon’s lead, which is 80% of the film.

    Also, I think their portrayal of the NASA culture was great. (sadly a throwback to an previous era, but leaving that aside…) I’ve encoutered a few NASA engineers and some young mission control operators from the early 2000s Mars rovers, and I think they did a good job in the short character sketches of conveying their style and bearing, and the wonderful nerd-fest when everyone is doing something they believe in fully (if not the heavy burden of organizational process and the potential dysfunction that is a side effect).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your NASA insights, peteybee. I am glad you like the film so much, many others do too. I liked at least half of it, not bad considering Space films are not usually my thing. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t seen “The Martian,” though I’ve ready plenty of positive reviews. I do have “Mission to Mars” and “Red Planet” on DVD. I really can’t explain why, but I just love watching “Red Planet.” The special effects are well done, AMEE makes for a formidable villain, the film is well cast, and the dialogue is sprinkled with fine bits of humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pete, I enjoyed this film, but two points to add – you are absolutely correct about the casting – what about Kristen Wiig in a minuscule role that took me out of the moment to say, “hey why is a comedic Actress here doing such a small humorless role?” The other thing I love about this film is the the Golden Globes, win a desperate bit to get Matt Damon to show up at the awards show, nominated it in the category of “Best Comedy / Musical!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That nomination is hilarious, John. ๐Ÿ™‚
      It could have been a much better film, if they had been brave enough to avoid so many of those Space cliches.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  5. I read the book and watched the movie. As you know I write science fiction and occasionally interview those that do. I know Andy Weir a little since I interviewed him and we email each other from time to time. He is a very technical science fiction writer since he’s a computer nerd. He always worries about his character development and is a very humble person as a writer. He wrote the Martian as a series on his blog, self published it as a book and then it became a runaway best seller because of his huge audience of techie science fiction fans.

    He sent me a copy of his next book Artemis about a colony on the moon for review last year. Once again it’s very technical and while his character development has improved, he’s still a young writer in this regard. What I like about Andy is he is always open to ideas on his work and he is very humble. Many writers at his level are not. For instance I also interviewed N.K. Jemison an award winning female writer who turned out to be extraordinarily arrogant and bordered on being rude – I don’t like her work anyway, but I chose her because I was interviewing people across several genres of science fiction and she’s writes well.

    Andy is a master of technical science fiction. Everything he does is researched for feasibility making him an easy sell to a male audience who doesn’t read fantasy or do aliens! Since you’re interested in the many cross genres of science fiction, he would tend to be on the pedestrian side!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for those insights, Felicity. I liked the parts of the film set on Mars, and would like to have seen more of the film set there. But those weary familiar scenes back at Mission Control ruined it for me.
      Best wishes, Pete. x


  6. I was fascinated when I read the book three years ago. In fact I hardly could stop reading, it is absolutely thrilling and very well written… It’s always hard to film a complex novel, and I confess I had been a little disappointed when I saw “The Martian” on screen. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well I usually totally agree with you on pretty much all that you write Pete ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve seen this one in the movie theatre and I have to see that I really enjoyed it a lot. I agree with some of the cliche things that were certainly in this film. But I wasn’t bored by this one for a single second ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I felt more or less the same as you Pete, the one man against the odds part was fascinating, the rescue not so much. I suppose there’s only so much you can do in space, at least this one didn’t have daft aliens ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Does he also manage to manufacture oxygen?? With all Nasaโ€™s doing to prepare for Mars close encounters I am left wondering what is really possible. Well, not likely in my lifetime, anyways….

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Potatoes? Whereโ€™s he going to get all the oil needed to make French fries? ๐Ÿ™‚
        I couldnโ€™t imagine NASA sending a sack of spuds to Mars… Mushrooms, possibly, as they donโ€™t need as much light, mulch or time to grow.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It seems they are the only ‘fresh’ food he has in abundance. As a botanist, he knows how to grow them, has some ‘Earth soil’, and uses his own poo as manure.
          No need to watch the film, unless you want to of course. ๐Ÿ™‚
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

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