The Martian is the best science fiction movie ever made. That’s an extreme claim but it is true. Much as I love to read science fiction, most of the movies are awful, especially the serious ones. I make an exception for the Avengers movies simply because they are made to be fun and they are in their own world.
The Martian is the finest science fiction film ever made. I am quite serious. It is better than 2001. I’ll admit to prejudice. I admire 2001 as a break through work of art that was vast in its ambition. It was also cold as ice. I didn’t really like it because there were no characters to become involved with and the ending was just confusing to me.
You really care about Mark Watney, the central person in The Martian. He’s likeable with a good sense of humor and an incredible, admirable spirit.
By now, most people have heard of the basic plot. Mark is an astronaut who in the middle of a disaster is presumed dead. He finds himself alone on Mars with food supplies that will run out long before he could be rescued. Plus, he won’t be rescued since he has no way to contact earth to let them know he is alive. His situation is hopeless so he sits down and starts working out how to survive.
When earth finds out he is alive, they realize there is no way they can rescue him before he dies of equipment failure or starvation. So they sit down and work out a way to rescue him.
That is the entire plot and what makes it work is that there are no silly subplots. There’s no phony romance. There’s no astronaut who goes crazy and endangers the mission. There’s no villain back on earth plotting to take advantage of the situation. There is simply a desperate mission of survival and rescue against impossible odds.
That’s it. That’s the plot and it makes for a wonderful, suspenseful story. It belongs to the old subgenre called hard science fiction. This is not to be confused with space opera or epic fantasy. In traditional hard science fiction, a scientist finds himself in an impossible situation and uses his scientific training to work out a solution. Any subplots are purely for decoration.
I compared it to 2001. Now I’ll compare it to last year’s Interstellar which was ambitious and well-intentioned and a failure due to being so cluttered up with subplots that you lost track of the serious intentions. The Martian stays totally focused on the issue of survival and rescue.
I think it’s a wonderful omen that it has been a blockbuster hit. It shows that audiences are starved for something genuine and recognize when they see it. Of course there are always exceptions. The one bad review I read was a long complaint that there were no Martians in the movie! Obviously, that viewer was looking for the conventional clichés.
So if you’re looking for an edge of the seat survival story with bits of humor, this is it!
Reviewed by Marian Powell