Colonist By Necessity: The Martian
Space travel is an adventure where the adventurers can make few mistakes. One astronaut learns how to make the most of a potentially fatal situation in The Martian. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a botanist who's part of a six-person team sent to Mars on the Ares III mission. As he and the other crew members gather soil samples on the planet, Mission Control alerts them to a fast-approaching and severe dust storm, which arrives before they can retreat into their living habitat, called the Hab for short. Their mission has come to an abrupt halt, but not before Watney gets knocked down by a small satellite dish and other debris. The crew commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) tries to get Watney, but does not succeed. The remaining crew must leave because the storm threatens to make their Hermes spacecraft unlaunchable, and therefore marooning them. Hermes pilot Rick Martinez (Michael Pena) launches just in time. Watney, though, wakens hours later, covered in dirt and wounded by a piece of metal from the dish. He cuts away the piece, as it keeps him attached to the dish. Low on oxygen, Mark quickly makes his way back to the Hab to further treat his injuries.
Realizing he could die before the next manned mission reaches Mars, Mark relies on his skills to extend his sustainability. He also resumes entries on his video journal, declaring he will "science...it" in his effort to survive. He turns a part of the Hab into a small farm, creating potato plants from his rations, and rigs equipment to create water. On earth, Mission Control member Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) notices activity at the Hab, and immediately contacts Ares III director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Together, the confirm that Watney remains alive. Kapoor, in turn, notifies NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels). Sanders, though, decides against informing the homeward-bound astronauts, and instructs the NASA media relations director, Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig) to spin their findings to the public without all of the details.
On Mars, Mark unearths the Pathfinder so he can communicate with NASA. Efforts begin to help Watney as flight engineer Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong) gets tasked to rush production of a rocket with provisions. Physicist Rich Purnell (Donald Glover), meanwhile, devises a plan to get Watney home. When problems arise with Ng's rocket, the Chinese privately reach out to NASA and offer one of their secret rockets to help. Things don't always work perfectly for Watney, as his efforts experience some setbacks. As things fall into place, Sanders finally lets flight crew director Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean) tell the crew about Mark. They have to make a decision that will delay their return home by over a year. Mark has to make his way in the Ares III rover to the base for the Ares IV mission, where supplies and a ship await.
The Martian, based on a novel by Andy Weir, has some degree of predictability to it. The film, however, compensates with a great sense of excitement and emotion. Director Ridley Scott usually make upbeat films, and his space exploration works Alien and Prometheus serve as examples of the worst case scenarios of people alone against the unknown. The Martian, though, shows a resolve and a willingness to make the best of a potentially fatal situation. Mark Watney shows he knows his science well as he takes the things he has and works out ways to make them last longer. His expertise works very well with the minds at NASA who plan to not lose him. Drew Goddard delivers a solid screen adaptation of the Weir novel as all involved think and talk their way through the situation. The one complaint I have, though, does involve the communication between the planets. Even if NASA can somehow block the Hermes from overhearing the talk between Watney and NASA, I don't get how the Ares III crew somehow doesn't see Watney's computer entries. They have a person in Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) who seems to be most adept around computers. Certainly Johanssen or a fellow astronaut might be interested in reading the journal entries and discover that Watney has made new ones as they head home. The movie, nevertheless, remains thrilling from beginning to poignant ending.
Mark Watney is the best performance Damon has given since he played Jason Bourne. Like Bourne, Watney often relies on his own skill to survive. Watney has moments of frustration, but not of panic. He has to do whatever he can to make Mars better suited to his earthly necessities. Many thing in the Hab and on the planet become essential to Mark's survival. Viewers, for example, get to see exactly what he uses to make his potato garden grow. Damon gets to show a bit of his comic side as he endures sitcoms and music that he would never have selected himself. The movie also boasts a great supporting ensemble. Ejiofor conveys excitement as Dr. Kapoor, while Daniels keeps his excitement hidden as Sanders. Chastain and Pena lead the way among the other crew, mourning their colleague, then showing equal determination to rescue him. Wiig and Glover, best known as TV comics (on Saturday Night Live and Community, respectively) show they have some drama in them in their parts. Wong and Davis may not be well known stateside, but they convey a sense of otpimism through all obstacles. Bean shows concern for well-being of his crew as Henderson, while Mara has good moments as the technology specialist. Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie complete the crew as Chris Beck and Alex Vogel, and make the best of their screen time as the men who help to execute a plan intended to allow them to rendezvous with Watney.
The year 2015 has included talk about sending people on a one-way trip to Mars within a decade in order to colonize it. Evidence also indicates a presence of water there, and theories that the planet had once been inhabited. Somewhere between the present and any possible mass colonization comes The Martian. The film shows an unintended prolonged stay on a world not fit for normal human habitation, and the effort needed to stay alive. The movie echoes the sentiment made famous by Gene Kranz as he directed the Apollo 13 mission: Failure is not an option. Everybody involved knows failure looms, but Mars's first colonist determines he will get home or die trying.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Martian 3.5 stars. This is Mark Watney to Ground Control.