Mars Continues to Fascinate
By Skip Sheffield
What is it with Earthlings and the planet Mars?
Of all the planets, Mars seems to fascinate us most, and that includes filmmakers. As a matter of fact one of the earliest Edison films was “A Trip to Mars” from 1910.
“The Martian” may be the best movie about Mars to date. It stars Matt Daman as Matt Watney, an American astronaut who was injured in a violent space storm and assumed dead by his company, who hightailed it back to earth.
“The Martian” is directed by Ridley Scott, who knows a bit about space science fiction, having directed the thrilling classic “Alien” in 1979 and “Prometheus” in 2012. It is based on the book by Andy Weir with script by Drew Goddard (“World War Z,” “Cabin in the Woods”). Not only does Matt Damon give an Oscar-level performance in a crowded Best Actor field, the special effects are so good you think yeah, maybe this could happen.
The movie starts off light-hearted with Mark Watney (Damon) joking around with teammate Rick Martinez (Michael Pena). Then uh-oh, an Emergency Storm Warning light comes on.
Team Captain Melissa Lewis says “We’ll wait it out.” Then she rethinks it. “We’re scrubbed,” she says. “That’s an order.”
But meanwhile Mark Watney goes outside the spacecraft, fiddling around with some doo-dad when the predicted storm struck. Something pierced his spacesuit.
“He was hit!” Martinez cries. “How long can he survive decompression?”
“About a minute” is the answer.
“Mark is dead,” Capt. Lewis concludes.
Meanwhile back at NASA control, project commander Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) makes an executive decision.
“We have no choice but to abort the mission.”
And so the crew blasts off, leaving Mark Watney behind.
Watney goes into a pressurized module, cuts off his suit and assesses his wound. It’s serious but not fatal.
So begins the rest of the story of the seemingly impossible survival and rescue of Mark Watney. It will take four years for a rescue team to return to Mars. Mark has about a one-year food supply.
“I’m not going to die,” he vows. “I need to figure out how to grow three years’ worth of food. Luckily I’m a botanist.”
Like Robinson Crusoe in the 19th century, Watney improvises to survive in 21st century space.
Of course back in Houston, the big thing they are worried about most is a public relations disaster. “The Martian” draws together disparate elements to create the most realistic, compelling and warm-hearted sci-fi what-if ever.