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I don’t usually do movie reviews on this blog. I do, however, do recommendations. So I’m recommending – head to the cinema and see The Martian. Or pick up the novel by Andy Weir that it’s based on. Or both – I’d somehow missed all the publicity about the book, and ended up reading it just before seeing the film. Which isn’t a bad way to do things, but you can see the movie quite happily without reading the book. My other half, who hasn’t a geeky bone in her body, was actually the one to suggest we go see the film (which probably had something to do with Matt Damon being in it) and absolutely loved it, despite her not having read the book and being unlikely to ever read it. I won’t go into her reasons for loving the film (which weren’t ALL Matt Damon) , but I can tell you mine.

Firstly, it’s a rare example of Hollywood, with a big budget no less, doing proper hard SF. I understand the reasons for not letting science get in the way of story, but far too many scriptwriters seem to take unholy glee in going out of their way to make things wrong when they could just as easily have put the right detail in the same place. I seriously suspect that at least some of it is done deliberately, for shits and giggles at the resulting nerd rage or out of contempt for the audience. This film, with one glaring exception (that’s also in the book, and does serve a story purpose) gets the science right. And tells you about the science. Somebody actually realised that you can treat an audience as if they’ve actually taken high school science and still earn your money back at the box office. More please, and while we’re at it can we now have a movie that shows that computer programming isn’t about Hugh Jackman typing on four different screens while receiving a blow job

Secondly, it’s accessible – as mentioned above, non-nerds can enjoy the film and even learn something from it. It makes fun of nerdish types but still makes them come across as sympathetic figures. It shows smart people as, well, people with good motives even when they disagree (a lot of writers would have made Jeff Daniels’ boss suit character to be an obstructive asshole, the antagonist the film didn’t really need). It explains both the problems, and the solutions, to the audience without ever feeling like it’s lecturing them.

Also, it’s damn well made. Well, what do you expect with a veteran like Ridley Scott at the helm and stalwarts like Chiwetel Ejiofor in the cast? The running time is quite long, at 2 hours 21 minutes, and at that leaves a number of events from the book out, but it never feels over-long. The 3D is done impeccably, and actually adds to the experience, unlike some movies I could name. Props also to the script adaptation, which reworks some of the gags from the book in a way that works better in an audio-visual medium but never loses the sense of the original… for example, Watney’s frustration with the 70’s disco tracks that are the only music available on Mars is shown differently on screen from the way it’s put on the page, but it comes through loud and clear both ways.

Finally, the movie has a message, not one that it overtly preaches (apart from in Watney’s little speech right at the end), but one that we don’t see enough of in my view – when you’re faced with problems you get to work, think about them and solve them. And if the solution (or just the fact of continued survival) throws up more problems, then you get to work on solving those as well. and you keep working, and solving, until you get through to the end. Too many Hollywood movies feature blue collar heroes who get through on their indomitable will to survive, but only use their heads as a hat rack. Far too much of what is sold as ‘SF’ both on screen and on paper is about grim dystopias where the characters just accept that that’s the way things are. The idea that we should, to quote The Martian, “science the shit” out of problems, is one that’s worth getting people to take onboard again. We CAN put people on Mars. And if something goes wrong and one of them gets marooned we CAN get him home again. Yeah, there are all sorts of difficulties. So what? Get to work and science the shit out of them.

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2 Comments

  1. I loved this movie, too. Ditto the recommendation.

  2. I really really loved The Martian for so many reasons and I can’t wait to re-watch it! that’s a rare thing for me to do but I actually look forwards to the blueray 🙂


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  1. By Marketing Genius | Tremayne's Law on 08 Feb 2016 at 10:07 pm

    […] picked up the DVD of The Martian today. There’s an advertising flyer for potatoes inside the […]

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