Movie Review: The Martian (2015)

by Brad Nelson3/19/17
Imagine my surprise to find a modern-day science fiction film with only four stupid things in it, and one of them was not (click here).

I know this will seem boorish, but let me first list those four things before talking about the good stuff. It is truly astonishing to find a modern sci-fi that is, first of all, actually sci-fi and not just a soap opera in space with cool metallic sets with lots of blinking lights. But to find one with so few flaws, it is worth mentioning those few flaws:

The four stupid things:

1) This is a sort of a MacGyver-in-space film, so you first have to set up the situation wherein (click here) is in survival mode. The producers do it by suddenly making a team of astronauts stupid-as-sheep in the face of an oncoming storm about which they had plenty of advance notice. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that as the minimum wage increases ever upward, some day you’ll be able to qualify for a NASA flight by filling out a form at a kiosk. It seemed like that kind of crew.

2) When it turns out that (click here) is not actually dead on Planet Mars (although he has been assumed to be), the director of NASA (lately known for stupid directors but not dumb-and-dumber ones), Jeff Daniels, decides that it is for the best not to tell the returning crew of the failed mission about the survival of (click here) because he thought it would distract them. The crew is seen to be down in the dumps. It’s obvious that knowing their buddy was alive would have been a morale boost. A horribly stupid plot point.

3) In order to extend the state-of-disaster for (click here), in the middle of the film they add a second staged disaster. It was a bit much.

4) Despite his (the click-here-guy) generally bland crew mates, the film is free of obvious token multicultural characters and characters who are annoyingly eccentric. But what movie can last without at least one? We get that in the horrible performance of Donald Glover who tries to play some kind of OCD scientist but just comes off as silly. But the rest of the cast (including click-here) are free from the typical goofball traits that modern goofball filmmakers stick onto their characters like gum on a shoe.

There. That’s it. That’s the entirety of the stupid stuff. To backward-evaluate most movies would take ten thousand words or more. But to be able to highlight the bad stuff so briefly is a credit to director Ridley Scott and writers Drew Goddard (a great name for a NASA sci-fi flick) and Andy Weir.

The film is laced with light bits of humor but never do we have (click here) acting like a buffoon. His character is nuanced and believable, including showing the few goofy things a person would actually do if marooned on Mars for hundreds of days all by oneself.

This is clearly meant to be a general-audience film. It’s light on science and the MacGyver stuff doesn’t go into great detail, although there are several moments where there is emphasis given to the inherent interest of technology and problem-solving itself. Not enough for my taste, but mercifully the movie did not lapse into silly. Most sci-fi films these day (Gravity, Interstellar) are relative jokes in terms of actual sci-fi.

Whether (click here) makes it back to earth or not I’ll leave to your imagination. This is a film worth watching. (click here) plays an engaging character who is very artful and human in ways not encumbered by the typical emasculated male typical of today. He’s tough, brave, and yet shares an appreciation for the stark beauty of the Mars landscape, something that is wonderfully front-and-center in this film.

There have been a host of awful movies (such as Red Planet or Mission to Mars) which wasted the opportunity of showing us the personality of the actual planet that is the setting of the film. In The Martian, it’s obviously CGI, not cinematography, per se But those who fashioned the special effects had the instincts of a top-flight cinematographer. In this sugar-rush world of dumbed-down tastes and short attention spans, this movie dares to show us long stretches of nothing but the spectacular surface of Mars. A rare thing to have a movie of any sort these days that is not goofball from start to finish. This is one of them.


Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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18 Responses to Movie Review: The Martian (2015)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I think some friends of ours saw this and liked it. Of course, you can get a good story out of what sounds like a ridiculous plot. A good example is James Blish’s Welcome to Mars, about an 18-year-old child prodigy who makes a spaceship out of a packing crate and goes off to Mars in it. (He can’t get back because a key part broke, and he didn’t have a replacement.)

  2. Rosalys says:

    My husband and I saw this in the theater. Yes, well worth seeing! And being stranded on Mars sort of demands some MacGyvering, so I won’t even hold that against it.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      No, the MacGyvering was part of its charm. The only part that disappointed me from a “gritty reality” point of view was when all the crew members very readily agreed to extend their time in space by another 400 days or so for what appeared to be a the slight chance to save (click here). It was a bit of an obnoxious NASA promotional film, in this regard. They all just immediately signed up with smiles. But, wow, that’s a lot of extra time. I think it would have been realistic (and far more dramatic) if a couple of the Marsnauts had to be talked into it.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    I saw this when it came out, wishing that it would not be generic science fiction. I must say that Brad hits all the spots where suspension of disbelief is required. Survival in extreme environments is what exploring is all about. If you don’t MacGyver a fix when something breaks, you die. Nature is funny that way.

    My complaint is that the movie is a two hour commercial for NASA; not that they don’t need the plug, but since they have given up on manned space endeavors and become PC I don’t give a whit what they do. Private industry is doing some remarkable things and in my humble opinion is as it should be.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m a big space enthusiast, Steve, and not because I’m an atheist materialist and am looking for god “out there” in the form of little green men, as seems the motivation for many. “Science” is the holy word and it’s greatest expression is not just technology but space technology. I doubt we’ll find an ET unless he was specifically created somewhere.

      As for NASA, I agree there were some obnoxious elements in the film. But then we have do deal in Realville here as well. I found it a bit obnoxious that we had to seek help from the Chinese to rescue (click here). But in real life, aren’t the Russians now doing some of our heavy lifting?

      I don’t mind the promotion of space exploration, even manned space exploration, although I think it would not be of much practical use to send men to either the moon or Mars. The original Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs had a definite ideological purpose, and one that I agree with: Let’s show the world what a freedom-based society can do. Eff the Russians.

      But I think political correctness has since denuded the program. I mean, for the evil, racist, ex-president to suggest that NASA’s job was Muslim outreach is a self-loathing pox we must purge from our system. And in my opinion the Space Shuttle was the beginning of the end of NASA having a good purpose. It was, like the international space station, a technical marvel but of little use. (They might as well call it the “International Kumbaya Station.”) The Space Shuttle was sold as “reusable” and “cost-saving.” Much if it was neither. In fact, from what I’ve read, what killed the second space shuttle disaster was when they went to some “environmentally friendly” glue to hold the foam on…which, of course, didn’t hold.

      We would have been further ahead developing disposable booster rockets. The only useful thing the Space Shuttle program did was service the Hubble telescope. And the only purpose I can see for sending men to the moon is to install a telescope on the far side of the moon, shielded from interference from electromagnetic noise from earth. Whether such as thing is still technologically a sound goal, I don’t know.

      I think NASA has done rather well with robotic missions which surely are the future of space exploration. And as cool as it might be to put a (click here) on Mars and build a colony, I can’t see what use it would have. In fact, although the movie did not bring this theme about overtly, at the end of the film when (click here) is sitting on a bench watching cadets jog by, you can’t help buy wonder at the easy and abundant suitability for life of Planet Earth. We take it for granted, environmental wackoism notwithstanding.

      And after the second disaster, I don’t know why (click here) couldn’t grow more potatoes. There was some lame excuse about the freeze killing off the friendly bacteria. But surely he had some grown potatoes in storage, and surely he had more bacteria-infested poop, and surely a freeze wouldn’t kill a grown potato’s ability to sprout, would it? They survive in the frozen ground, right? So I don’t get that part of it.

      I’m all for private industry making end runs around Big Government and Big Science. Because of political correctness, the infection of Leftism into science, and motivations that are usually based on multiculturalism, not discovery, I think Big Science and Big Government will be hard-pressed to do anything but make-work projects like the International Kumbaya Station, although NASA’s robotic work has been pretty exceptional. But as for making actual commercial use of space, including a colony on the moon or Mars, it might indeed require private enterprise to do that. Certainly the motivation to appease backward Muslims isn’t a sound policy for space exploration.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I found it a bit obnoxious that we had to seek help from the Chinese to rescue (click here). But in real life, aren’t the Russians now doing some of our heavy lifting?

        What are you, thick? Russia is a historically Western nation based on Christianity full of white people which expanded and brought Western culture, albeit a somewhat different version than the Anglo-Saxon version, to other nations. The Chinese are not white and not Christian so they are obviously superior to evil Christian-originating, white, western males.

        Then again, maybe Chinese funded the movie like they did with the Damon flop, “The Great Wall.”

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          The international politics were soft-pedaled in the movie. It was a chance for a Kumbaya moment. That’s how it was portrayed. And certainly in this movie, America has not shrunk back from big, bold exploration. But in Realville, there is every chance that both the Chinese and Russians will be eating our lunch because the directive for their space agencies (I presume) is not to appease the Muslim sense of inferiority. But I suspect (or hope) that President Trump will change directions in this regard.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            The Atlas V rocket uses a Russian built engine to lift it off the launch pad. It is the RD-180.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Couldn’t have ever had a space program without some Germans and Russians, I suppose.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The German rocket scientists were crucial in the early days. (Tom Lehrer took an amusing view of this in “Werner von Braun”.) The Russians are important now because we stopped making powerful rockets for space launches. Apparently we got rid of the specs for the Saturn V.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                Apparently we got rid of the specs for the Saturn V.

                We don’t have the brains to maintain an institutional memory for the Saturn V specs. But mysteriously, those “gender, female and race studies” which infect academia are very important.

                I believe I know why those “gender, et. al.” studies have proliferated. Women are generally not interested in science and math!

                Even Microsoft admits this. Whenever I turn on my screen to read my email or go to my browser, various photos appear asking if I like what I see, or dispensing information which Microsoft believes is important to me.

                Today the screen let me know that only 0.4% of teen girls planned to major in computer science and only 6.7% of girls graduate with STEM degrees. This must be true because Microsoft wouldn’t lie.

                There you have the solution to the mystery.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                A shocking thought, and certainly not a boost to the American ego, that they didn’t save the plans for the Saturn V. That sounds more like an urban legend, but you never know.

                Let’s take a look at the matter as logically as we can:

                + Space exploration (exploration for the sake of exploration) is what a truly “progressive” society is involved in. We don’t shrink back from the frontiers. We don’t make lame excuses such as “Oooo…that money could have been used to enlarge the roles of a dependent welfare class.”

                + There is also a knowledge frontier, and knowledge for the sake of knowledge (other than lighting cats on fire just to note their reaction) is a good thing.

                + Human Exceptionalism can be reinforced and maintain when we do Big Things and pause to consider that we are not just monkeys with larger brains.

                + In this particularly movie — not unlike the reality of Apollo 13 — the world watched in hopeful unison (except, of course, for the Muslim countries who would only be gladdened if The Great Satan had a failure) as the fate of (click here) hangs in the balance. There can be, and should be, big things and big ideas that bring mankind together in a good (and non-Communistically creepy) way.

                + Plus, shooting shit up into space is just cool.

                I vote for all of the above.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Space exploration could reasonably be compared to the Lewis and Clark expedition. Of course, there’s no Sacajewea to help out, which would reduce the interest to modern liberals.

                Actually, I doubt many Muslim nations in 1969 rooted against our moon landing. Communist and Arab national socialists wuld have been much likelier choices (e.g., China, the Soviet Union, and Nasser’s Egypt).

  4. Lucia says:

    Please do not believe that you can grow potatoes in fresh human manure or any fresh manure for that matter. The plant roots would be too burnt to survive. Also the hot house would provide an excellent environment for disease. Details like that killed the credibility of that movie for me, but I suppose most people wouldn’t notice. However, I’ve noticed a lack of research in many of today’s movies and an expectation that audiences just wouldn’t know better anyway.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This happens. L. Sprague de Camp once mentioned that someone objected to an error in Ostrogothic inflexion in his great time travel/alternate history novel Lest Darkness Fall. For some reason, most readers didn’t notice. I’ve heard of similar concerns with guns — indeed, the scene with Major Boothroyd giving Bond different arms in Doctor No came from such a complaint to Ian Fleming (by a man named Boothroyd, of course).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      But I thought (click here) was a world famous botanist? But I admit I haven’t the slightest idea if he could have grown potatoes in the way that he did. But the general idea seems plausible. All you need is light, heat, water, and fertilizer.

      One of the more interesting moments is when they had to find a way to shed weight from the capsule that (click here) was going to use to blast off into space. I’d love to find out if removing the nose cone and replacing it with a tarp would have worked. Is the air so thin that such an arrangement would work? I wonder. Still…a few things like this didn’t spoil the film. You gain some credit in terms of suspension-of-disbelief when the rest of the film isn’t the usual mix of stupidity which is typical of movies these days.

      Overall, I thought this was a very good space adventure. And other than what appeared to be high minimum-wage employees who were along for the ride with (click here), it was generally free from the usual political and social nonsense. America was not greedy and evil. Big Business was not the villain. White males were not demonized (in fact, one was the hero). There was no ass-kicking female. There was no environmental plague brought on by mankind. Hell, there was even disco music instead of rap music.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Potatoes are easy to grow on our planet — that’s why the Irish made such a heavy reliance on them (they could pretty much live off milk and potatoes — and alcohol, of course). I have no idea how easily we could grow them on Mars.

        I’m no expert, but I would be VERY skeptical that replacing a nose cone with a tarp would work on a space rocket. For one thing, the flattened nose would make the rocket less aerodynamic, which would be very important at the beginning (though irrelevant in space).

  5. Lucia says:

    To grow anything in Martian soil requires a belief that the same nutrients and bacteria that’s required for plant life is the same there as on Earth. My main objection to the movie and those like it is the notion that we as humans must colonize other planets in order to survive. That we are poisoning our planet and must find another place to live as soon as possible.

    I found Gravity more believable than the Martian.

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