Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Martian - Second best movie of the year


Jurassic World is the first, obvi :-) .I got to finally watch this movie in 3D, and must say it tells a very realistic and believable story of Robinsonade on Mars. I guess it will be best enjoyed by scientists and engineers, people who solve technological problems every day, and even by anybody who has ever fixed a bike or plugged a leak. The director, Ridley Scott, has made movies across genres and timelines, but has been steadily delivering big budget duds, like Exodus and Prometheus. But in the Martian, he had decided to tell a simple story of engineering problem solving, and a man's resolve to survive.

First things first. Matt Damon, as the astronaut  stranded on Mars, nails it. He gets the best scenes and dialogues. And the supporting cast also does a good job. Matt's space cowboy role is much better written than Cooper from Interstellar, and the astronauts from Gravity. But thats mainly because he is still on solid ground (Mars) and has better equipment and state of mind. Instead of saving the world like Cooper, he is focussed on saving himself, wanting a little bit of spotlight on himself. He is also very logical and plans his actions without emotions getting in the way. While this means he approaches problems scientifically, I think it stops from his character development. And this is my biggest problem with the movie. During the entire 500 sols on the red planet, we never even once see/hear Mark Watney talk about his family, his friends, his hobbies..and what he misses the most on earth. 500 days alone without even a way to hear a human voice. It can mess things up. But Mark does not go crazy or suicidal. He works it out like a robot.

In Interstellar, decades have passed on earth after Cooper leaves and he is desperate to return to his kids. In Gravity, Stone wants to get back to her family and daughter. But Mark was no one close. Even in the end when Mark is safe on planet earth and is now teaching, he is seen alone, without a shot of his home or a partner, or what kind of music he likes. The only thing we get to take away from the movie about Mark's personal life, is that he prefers coffee. The book (which I am reading) tells us a lot more about Watney, that he grew up in Chicago, and likes beer, and that he is sick of potatoes. The movie does not describe his loneliness and isolation while being stranded 250 million miles away.

There are some spectacular shots of the Mars horizon in the movie, you gotta watch it in 3d. And the rescue sequence in the end is awesome. The ships are not overdone, they look functional and well designed. The equipment of the crew is what modern astronauts have. There is not too much jargon in the talk , on hindsight, this is unexpected. And there is almost equal coverage of the actions on earth and Hermes spacecraft to the scenes on Mars. But they could have done a little more, IMHO.

Gravity on Mars is only about one-third earth gravity (actually 68%). So it should have been visible on the planet. But the Mars visitors walk around like they do on Earth. Weird.

There is a huge time lag for electronic communication between earth and mars. Max 22 minutes. Even light,the fastest thing in the universe, would take 22 minutes to travel from earth to mars. But in the final rescue sequence, the crew at Houston is shown listening on the rescue in real time.

Mark does not fall sick, or injured during this 500 sol stay. After the injury from the debris, the staples himself shut, and there is no show of infection or side effects. Except for the passing out on the Mars Ascention Vehicle in the end, he is in excellent health ! Prolonged exposure to low gravity environments  should have shown effects on this health.

Mars is a low gravity planet very far from earth. Relativity tells us that time on Mars will be slower that of Earth time. What effect does this have on communication, and aging ? Nothing addressed.

But these are minor issues. The movie does justice to the book. Clearly the movie is about surviving odds. And solving problems. And team work. All in all, positivity. I am sure at least a few young minds will be inspired to take up astronomy as a career prospect after watching this movie.


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