Instead of my usual review style—witty, insightful, and without drawn-out exposition, naturally—this time I’m going to pose a series of questions. Despite getting my bag searched by the ticket-taker, I successfully smuggled a 22 oz. ginger kombucha beer and two fancy chocolate bars into The Martian, and these substances greatly affected my note-taking abilities. I give you my scribbled questions, and answers.
Q: If the planet Mars were a letter, which letter would it be?
A: The letter O, because of all the pancake craters on the planet’s surface. Also, if The Martian paints an accurate picture of the red planet, looking at its vast, jagged, and shifty surface makes people, like Matt Damon for instance, say, “Ooooh.” Well, to be fair, he never actually said that, but he made that sort of face, and he did say, “I’m the first person to be alone an entire planet.”
Q: Do female astronauts really need to wear eyeliner in space?
A: Probably not, but in the case of the commanding officer of the Mars mission that accidentally left Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind, the eyeliner outlined the most expressive part of her face inside the bulky space helmet, thus conveying crucial nonverbal information. On a related note, since when did astronauts and mission control officers get so pretty? Sally Ride is one of my heroes, but she’s not what I’d call babe material.
Q: What’s the most absurd soundtrack to force upon a man stranded on Mars, struggling to survive?
A: Disco, and so it works beautifully. Hot Stuff, Turn the Beat Around, and Love Train blast as Watney cruises empty landscapes in his tiny rover, or sweats in the stuffiness of his space suit. Surprisingly, the one David Bowie song to make the cut is not “Life on Mars,” but another whose name I forgot (“star man, floating in the sky…”)—this too works splendidly against the wide screen shots of the space ship turning.
Q: Which hole is scarier: a black hole or a hole in a space helmet?
A: Well, this movie only showed a hole in a space helmet, and it was terrifying. The sound of the oxygen rushing out, the computer voice calmly reciting, “Oxygen level, critical,” and Watney desperately patching the hole with shiny space duct tape, hampered by his giant gloves—all of this was scary. A black hole might be less scary, because it could be a faster experience. Then again, has anyone ever gone over an event horizon and lived to tell the tale?
Q: Did Matt Damon actually lose twenty pounds during the filming of this movie? (His character is slowly starving on dwindling rations, and by the time of his rescue, he’s barely alive).
A: I don’t think so, because there’s never a shot of Damon’s face and this bony new body together. Also, the gaunt, drawn body seems to be a little taller than Damon’s.
Q: How did Jeff Daniels do, as the director of NASA?
A: I love Jeff Daniels; Paper Man is one of my favorite films of the last ten years, followed closely by The Squid and the Whale, another movie he stars in. That said, I was kind of disappointed by him in this role. But then: in a movie where all the empathy (and most of the screen time) is devoted to a handsome astronaut fighting valiantly for survival on a distant planet, how can a pinstriped bureaucrat with lines like, “Congress won’t let us buy so much as a paperclip, let alone a satellite,” expect to stand out? I hope Jeff Daniels was at least paid well.
Q: Last question. What would you rate this movie?
A: I think it’s a solid three and three quarters out of five stars. I liked the beautiful, desolate CGI landscapes, I liked the shiny space ships and the way the actors gracefully swooped around (one woman was like a ballerina, toes tightly pointed and neck arched). The disco soundtrack was glorious (how many movies play a full Donna Summers tune anymore? I was grooving with my ginger kombucha beer). I can’t give The Martian a full four stars, or anything higher, because the film’s production staff kept insisting (in all the promotional material, not to mention quotes from the original book’s author) that the plot is not so far-fetched, it could really happen. And, while the science may be sound—Watney could actually have grown potatoes in astronaut poop and escaped in a spacepod with a tarp for a roof—one crucial point was neglected: he lived completely alone for over a year and a half, in a brutal climate, with no change to his character or his psyche. That’s hard to believe. He talked into the NASA cameras a lot, and, after a few weeks of isolation he managed to connect with NASA on earth and communicate, somewhat, with other people, but that’s not the same as actual human contact. The people he was space-texting with were four years of travel time away, and for the majority of his time on Mars, his survival was not likely. But, he pulled himself up by his moonbootstraps and kept on keeping on, never once breaking down, even when he accidentally blew up his potato crop. I wish he had; his stone-faced resolution made it hard to see him as a fleshed out character. At the very end of the movie, when he’s back at NASA telling the junior recruits all about his spaceman adventures, there’s a line or two on resilience, not giving up, et cetera—it’s ham-handed and tacked on. They should have ended the movie with him kissing the earth (which he also doesn’t do). See this movie if you like manly sci-fi, ballerina astronauts, and close-ups of Matt Damon’s pores.