The Martian

Normally I don't much like following trends for some reason -- this is why I can't ever read the Harry Potter books -- so it does seem a little weird to me to join in on the many raves already out there about this movie, but what the heck? It is a good movie, and a good book, so why not do my small bit to help encourage both? And yes, I slipped up somehow and actually read the book first, quite some time ago.

So there's Matt Damon (Interstellar), which is always good news for me, and in this case good casting. Things are a bit more evened out in the movie, but in the book the Mark Watney character is basically the entire focus, with only the occasional interruption from Mission Control or his erstwhile crewmates. But even in the film he's still got to be someone the audience can relate to, someone who seems like a regular, likable guy. And you've got to have a sense of humor to survive being the only living thing on an entire planet, or at least the only living thing that isn't a bacteria, since we know now that there's water up there.

Leading the mission is Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain, also in Interstellar), who makes the call to abort the group's mission halfway through when a huge dust storm hits. Thanks to a freak accident that destroyed the bio-monitor on Mark's spacesuit when he was injured, she thinks she's leaving a corpse behind, which is bad enough; discovering that you've left behind a live person to die a slow death from starvation, dehydration, or any one of a number of other unpleasant fates, is another thing entirely.

The world is watching, literally, as NASA, under the leadership of Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels, Looper), struggles to figure out a workable plan for getting one stranded botanist home before any of those awful things can happen to him. Well, granted, Sanders is more interested in putting on a show of trying than actually rescuing anyone, but to each their own. He's got public relations to think about. But everyone else pulls together, from the hapless Bruce (Benedict Wong, Prometheus) at JPL to NASA press liaison Annie (Kristen Wiig, Paul) to project manager Vincent (Chiwetel Eiofor, Salt), and do their best to work a series of small miracles.

There are a lot of faces you'll probably recognize, like Michael Peña and Sebastian Stan from Ant-Man, though admittedly Sebastian is only in the teaser at the end as Bucky. Kate Mara is trying to live down Fantastic Four and there's even a guy from the last Hercules movie, Aksel Hennie.

Better still, there's also Sean Bean (Jupiter Ascending) as Mitch Henderson, the only person who ever has the nerve to disagree with Sanders. There's an exchange in the previews between them, where Sanders says, "This is bigger than just one man," to which Mitch replies, "No. It isn't," and that's really the whole point of everything. Sanders is thinking of publicity and, yes, money, though to be fair he is also thinking of the future of the space program. But it's dangerous to start deciding what is and isn't 'worth it' when it comes to saving a life, because that way lies madness.

Four and three-quarters out of five. The book is better mainly because it gives a better sense of how long Mark is stranded and how difficult day to day survival is, but there's not much to be done about that in a movie format and the filmmakers did about as well as they could have with that problem. And there are almost too many familiar faces, and it was obviously a struggle to give all of them at least one good scene. But overall it was quite well-balanced and worth fighting the crowds to see it. The Lord of the Rings joke they added is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Image: 
One of the gadgets that helps Watney live. Bonus points if you can name it.

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