“The Martian” brings new life to tired genre

Caleigh Stephens

Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the best-selling science fiction novel, “The Martian,” is a refreshing departure from the typical space movie in that it mixes comedy and science, and is anchored by a strong performance from Matt Damon.

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The movie centers around astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who attempts to survive on the red planet after being abandoned by his crewmates. During a particularly dangerous storm, the crew is forced to abort their mission and thinks Watney is dead due to a flying piece of debris that strikes him and halts communication.

“The Martian” is a comedic effort in the face of mortality. It successfully replaces the too heavily-relied upon suspense and tension of typical science fiction for a more light-hearted feel without losing the audience’s investment in the story.

Watney, alone on a foreign planet and without any means of communication, is forced to fend for himself, not giving up despite the knowledge that rescue is unlikely. As problems continually arise, Watney must problem solve and use his scientific knowledge to survive. For example, Watney figures out how to grow potatoes, giving himself a reliable food source.  “The Martian” is an ode to science, celebrating human ingenuity with a refreshingly optimistic tone.

Back on Earth, NASA Mission Control executives (Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejifor) attempt to bring Watney home after learning that he is still alive. The entire world comes together with Chinese-American space program collaboration for Watney’s rescue and large crowds gathering to learn of Watney’s fate.

The Oct. 2 release of “The Martian” could not have had better timing, as it happened just four days after NASA discovered liquid water flowing on Mars.

Indeed, “The Martian” has been a box office hit––it raked in $54 million its opening weekend, reaching the top spot, according to Box Office Mojo.

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While there are no weak points within the cast, the movie relies on Damon’s solo performance. His daily video journals allow for crucial character development and comedic relief.

Performances by Jessica Chastain and Donald Glover stand out among a star-studded cast of secondary characters who don’t quite get a chance to shine.  The main focus of the movie is on Damon, with the rest of the cast pushed to the background.

The plot is reminiscent of other space movies such as “Apollo 13,” with a basic bring-an-astronaut-home-safely structure, but “The Martian” brings new flavor to the trope.

The enjoyment of the movie comes not only from a comedic aspect, but also the interest in solving an impossible problem hooks the audience. The audience becomes deeply invested in Watney’s dire situation as problems arise one by one, each increasing with magnitude.

The movie is also very realistic and scientifically accurate due to the use of recent and accurate technology to move the plot forward. There is enough science to satisfy science fiction nerds, while still keeping jargon to a minimum.

“The Martian” is an enjoyable effort that appeals to a wide audience.  Despite the length two and a half hour run time, the movie doesn’t grow dull and engages throughout.