The Martian Is Out of this World


Photo credited to Newsweek.

A scene from the feature film, The Martian.

Lucy Arnold, Editor in Chief

On Friday, October 2, Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated film adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, The Martian, landed in theaters. Four days later, I joined the ranks of bibliophiles, science nerds, space fans, film jocks, and numerous others who have flooded into theaters to experience this hyped-up Mars-Western. I am very glad that I did.

Before I launch into my extensive praise of this film, I must admit that I experienced several minor misgivings as I sat in the shadowy theater, waiting for the commercials to end and for the the film to start. As previews and ads blurred across the screen, I reflected on the sad fact that so many bestseller-based movies struggle to fulfill high-pre-release expectations.

So many bestseller-based movies struggle to fulfill high-pre-release expectations.”

— Lucy Arnold

For whatever reason, these films seem to fall flat or short once they hit theaters, even though they boast outstanding casts, huge budgets, breathtaking special effects, and incredible plot lines. It seems that with almost all movies based on books, viewers go to theaters with a very clear idea of what the action should look like, and at least some of them leave disappointed because the cinematography can’t live up to the images that played through their heads as they read the book.

Scott’s epic space movie is a noteworthy exception to this conundrum; it possesses the great cast, budget, special effects, and storyline present in so many other book-based blockbusters, but it also surpassed my every expectation because it portrays human cooperation and the will to survive so superbly. The Martian’s very strong showing in theaters demonstrates that countless others agree with me when I say that this is one of the greatest movies to hit cinemas in years.

The main premise of the film is fairly simple (and no, it is not just another Interstellar). Mark Watney is an astronaut member of the Ares 3 expedition on Mars when his five crewmates accidentally leave him behind. Facing a long period of solitude and incredible odds, Watney must find a way to survive on the Red Planet by planting food and making contact with Earth. Everything gets especially interesting when NASA realizes that the Ares 3 botanist is still alive and launches rescue efforts.

It surpassed my every expectation because it portrays human cooperation and the will to survive so superbly.”

— Lucy Arnold

In my opinion, the best part of The Martian is that it deals with very serious subject matter in an uplifting and hilarious way. Though viewers spend over two hours in the head of a man who is stranded on an extremely large and desolate planet for an extended period of time, they leave theaters feeling far from alone. The film is so satisfying and inspiring because of its premise: the world’s people come together to save one person deserted millions of miles away.

This positive experience would not be possible without the remarkably talented host of actors and actresses who bring Weir’s novel to life. Matt Damon arguably gives his best performance in years as the brilliantly goofy astronaut Mark Watney, a man who faces countless challenges alone on Mars with a can-do attitude and thriving sense of humor.

Jessica Chastain is perfect as Watney’s tough, determined mission commander, Melissa Lewis, while Kate Mara plays shy mission computer expert Beth Johanssen very well.  Back on earth, Kirsten Wiig and Jeff Daniels balance a sense of urgency and comedic charm as NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose and NASA Chief Executive Teddy Sanders.

Speaking of comedic charm, this review would not be complete if I didn’t acknowledge that humor makes The Martian. The film is a lively celebration of intelligent nerd culture from start to finish, for Watney, his Ares 3 crewmates, and almost all of the NASA personnel who work to bring him home have hilarious quirks.

The film is a lively celebration of intelligent nerd culture from start to finish.”

— Lucy Arnold

Case in point: beneath her stoic exterior and much to Watney’s chagrin, Commander Lewis is a diehard disco fan. Johanssen devoutly watches 70’s sitcoms in her spare time. The mission chemist, Alex Vogel, thinks nothing of making a sugar-based bomb if circumstances require it. NASA astrophysicist Rich Purnell names Watney’s rescue plan “Project Elrond” after the solemn elf council in Lord of the Rings. Annie Montrose’s exasperated reaction? “I hate you guys.”

Though all of these characters are hilarious, none are funnier than Mark Watney. Especially memorable moments include his declarations that Mars will come to “fear his botany powers” and that he is the “best botanist on the planet.” At another point, his triumphant “In your face, Neil Armstrong!” caused my theater to resound with laughter. Even as he hurtles through space in a gutted ascent vehicle and suddenly faces the horrifying possibility that his crew might be unable to pick him up, Watney remains upbeat, begging Commander Lewis to let him release pressure from his space suit so that he can reach his trip home by “being Ironman.”

In short, The Martian is a cinematic treasure. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and engrossed in the action, but it also keeps you laughing steadily. The story, acting, screenplay, and special effects are spot-on. Refreshingly, the filmmakers decided to keep the plot of the film very close to that of the book, bringing all of the best elements of Weir’s debut novel to the big screen. Most of all, The Martian shines because of the beauty of its universal message: no matter who we are, where we are, or where we come from, all people are connected by an instinct to help each other. If doing so means traveling over a hundred million miles and committing the entire planet to support and rescue efforts, so be it.