Petra, in Jordan, is called the Rose City, for very good reasons, the rock is a rosy color, and so is the sand. ‘The Martian’, in so far as it was filmed in an actual earthly geographical location, was filmed in the deserts of Jordan, as it was deemed the terrain on earthy most like the Red Planet. For two hours and 22 minutes, we hold our breath is see if Mark Watney (aka Matt Damon), left for dead on Mars, will survive long enough to be rescued somehow by NASA. The movie is long, but one can argue necessarily so. Mars is a long way away. Mounting a rescue mission to Mars is no small task. What distinguishes this movie is that it involves: 1) an ensemble cast in a way that ‘Gravity’ (to which the comparisons are being made) does not, except at the outset; and 2) it involves a return to earth in a way that ‘Interstellar’ which has a repurposed mission for Matt you know who, does not. It is also a movie not merely about space or space travel but quite specifically about NASA, which about now needs the jump start ‘the Martian’ might provide. 3) this movie is not just about bravery (‘boldly going where no one etc. etc.’) but about science, and the ability to solve problems via science. As Watney says— he is going to have to ‘science the Sh….. out of a variety of things to survive on Mars until rescuers can come’. It is thus a movie about perseverance, patience, careful use of human intelligence, and yes— ‘expertise’. Mark Watney is no ordinary space pirate or space cowboy– he is a botanist, which comes in handy since he was going to need more food than expected when his amigos left him alone on the Red planet, thinking him dead.
Another thing that makes this movie so watchable is an all star cast— including Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Sean Pena. The interaction between the astronauts in space, the NASA group on earth, and Mark Watney on Mars is often fun, and sometimes quite poignant. Matt Damon of course is the focus and central star around which the others revolve, but they are no less luminous even though they get less face time in the film. We saw this film in 3D and there were moments where it was worth it, but overall, it’s not worth the extra price.
In a time when America seems to have lost its way on so many fronts, this movie is a patriotic shot in the arm about good ole American ingenuity. It is also about U.S. co-operation with China in space, a look to the future. While this is not the best space movie ever, it is a very good one, and if you can get past the F and S language, its a good family film as well. It’s certainly visually stimulating as well as thought provoking.