“The Martian” A Star-Driven Space Opera

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David Bowie and Elton John warned us about Mars.

It ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, sang John. Bowie said it was full of Spiders.

marsThe astronaut played by Matt Damon should have listened to them.

As if more evidence was needed director Ridley Scott’s film “The Martian” is a portrait of the bad things can happen there.

It is based on a sci-fi novel about a scientist left behind on Mars by fellow astronauts who believe him dead. But he lived and his survival depended on the problem solving ingenuity that was his defining character trait.

Here that ingenuity is portrayed by Damon as a series of Eureka! moments, involving equipment left behind by his mission and unmanned missions.

He literally becomes MacGyver on Mars, which was probably the one-line movie pitch.

But what was methodical and detailed in the book becomes “and then that happened” in the film, with Damon narrating his ideas and struggles to an audio diary. One of his regular complaints is that the only music left behind by his commander is disco.

Once the team back on Earth learns he is alive the story also becomes about the politics and problems faced in saving him by a NASA team including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels and a what-is-she-doing-here Kristen Wiig. The screenplay is by Drew Goddard who wrote “Cloverfield” and “World War Z.”

A line can be drawn from “Gravity” through “Interstellar” (in which space traveler Damon tried to kill Matthew McConaughey) to “The Martian,” as another star driven space opera. Each has its moments.

For its part, “The Martian” has a crackerjack thrill ride of an ending.

But Mars is not visually interesting and never comes alive as a character.

Three stars ***

With Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Donald Glover. Produced by Mark Huffam, Simon Kinerg, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Aditya Sood. Written by Drew Goddard. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated: PG-13, language. Approximate running time: 141 minutes.

 

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