The Martian (For Once A Movie Didn’t Suck)

I just watched the Martian. Spoiler alert: it’s about a guy who gets stuck on Mars. But you already knew that.

This is the first time in forever I didn’t feel dirty and used after comparing a movie theater ticket price to the experience. I loved it. Here’s my short review:

“The Martian is a damn fine movie. If you haven’t watched it you should.”

See? I’m all about simplicity.

What? You want details? OK fine. Here are some pros and cons. Warning (there are a minor spoilers ahead… don’t read further if you don’t want to hear ’em):


  • A PG-13 topic was covered in a PG-13 manner.
  • There were no superheroes. Thank God!
  • When faced with near certain death, the main character does not indulge in navel gazing and cosmic weepery. This makes sense; despair is a luxury one can ill afford when on the knife edge. Psycotherapists and clingy freaks in drum circles lose one hit point every time The Martian is played.
  • It got the science right, or at least plausible. They did not “reverse the polarity of the tri-corder” to solve everything.
  • It captured the “feel” of statistical uncertainty, which is practically a public service. “Given imperfect information you must choose between mutually exclusive options with no clear winner and no guarantee of success.” It’s a concept to which Americans (indeed all human beings) need exposure.
  • Mars looks beautiful… as it should.
  • There was no love story pigeonholed in the script where one wasn’t needed.
  • Nobody got in a fight because smart people don’t degrade into fisticuffs like juvenile fuckwits. (Can you tell I’m sick of superheroes?)
  • They didn’t insert excessive tokens. Most movies assume a two minute scene waking down the street needs a gay guy, someone in a wheelchair, and two oppressed minorities striving to overcome a world full of racism. This movie told a story with actual people of reasonable depth instead of a stack of checkboxes.
  • They didn’t tack on a bullshit backstory involving a puppy and how the protagonist had to persevere in order to bring flowers to Tiny Tim with leukemia back home. He worked hard to live because he didn’t want to die. Sufficient motivation.
  • There was no bullshit speech about how “we should drop everything and haul ass back there to save this guy regardless of the risks because if we save one life it’s all worth it”. Politicians and Hollywood writers talk like that but people smart enough to get to Mars don’t. Everyone considered risks from every angle. Which is what smart people do.
  • People who considered risk didn’t instantly pansy out. Which seems entirely reasonable to me.
  • They captured the sense of scale. Scenes in space made my wife, who is afraid of heights, nearly tear my arm off.
  • They captured the sense of claustrophobia whenever air supplies were in jeopardy. Did anyone in Star Trek or Star Wars ever pant for breath?

Cons (these are all minor):

  • How much did NASA pay for this? Recently NASA can scarcely walk and chew gum at the same time and yet they’re space studs of Mars? I wonder what managers at SpaceX think about product placement versus knuckling down and building a damn rocket and how that compares to NASA.
  • I realize our nation has a lot of illiterate losers but does a room literally filled with rocket scientists need an explanation of orbits involving a stapler? For a brief moment I felt like they were talking down to me. A clever writer could have figured out a graphic or something.
  • When NASA faceplants, the story needs a second player to help. Who should arrive like a white knight with a secret awesome rocket offered by a magnanimous super wise CEO type guy who risks all in the advancement on humanitarian rescue and scientific cooperation? The Chinese. Really? The Russians can and do launch people into space all the time? SpaceX is kicking ass trying to be space truckers to the ISS. Can China do anything beyond launching a satellite? I’m not the only one to notice that America’s biggest creditor has become our awesome movie sidekick.
  • Matt Damon. He did a fine job acting. I should be happy. For some reason I want to punch the guy. I don’t know why.
  • This is minor but can’t we have an astronaut that’s butt ugly? An astronaut / botanist who can skip showers for a year while looking merely “rugged” and a female Chinese space government bureaucrats that was built like a supermodel makes me wonder what engineering schools I missed out on. Unlike, say Firefly which was meant to be swashbuckling, this was mean to be realistic and my “willing suspension of disbelief” was stretched.  Of course everyone was standard Hollywood handsome and maybe I can’t ask more on a commercial movie.
  • Find the dipshit marketing robot that decided to shoehorn “period” music into movies and have him killed! On Mars some dude is listening to Waterloo by ABBA (1974) and in Guardians of the Galaxy some dude is listening to Cherry Bomb by the Runaways (1976).  Yes, audiences can’t help tapping our feet to shit from 1970’s but it’s not subtle and it’s demeaning? If I stand on my hind legs will you give me a dog treat too? Bad marketer! Stop it!

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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10 Responses to The Martian (For Once A Movie Didn’t Suck)

  1. Cloudbuster says:

    Matt Damon. He did a fine job acting. I should be happy. For some reason I want to punch the guy. I don’t know why.

    You’re not the only guy. I’d say it’s his politics, but it goes deeper than that. Ever seen The Talented Mr. Ripley? I can’t help but feel like that smarmy creep exposes some of the real Matt Damon.

    This is minor but can’t we have an astronaut that’s butt ugly?

    Hollywood needs a new Ernest Borgnine.

    • It could be his politics but I don’t think so. I make a point of ignoring actors’ politics so I don’t know them.

      As far as I’m concerned, actors are just dancing monkeys and should be treated as such. Possibly very skilled and highly paid dancing monkeys but monkeys nonetheless. Being particularly good at acting wouldn’t imply any sort of deep wisdom and might even indicate the opposite. (I suspect a sort of shallowness of character “works” when acting. Wouldn’t it be easier to “act” on cue if you’ve no deep beliefs to fight against you and become a “tell”?) It was good enough acting though.

      If the universe were truly in balance Matt Damon might see me walking down the street and illogically wish he could punch me too. If I ever meet him I’ll ask about it.

  2. Kevin Baker says:

    I’ve watched a lot of interviews and speeches given by the book author, Andy Weir. When he started writing The Martian, SpaceX hadn’t launched anything yet, and Weir was a former employee of one of the Federal National Laboratories. That he saw NASA and other national space agencies as the only options for launch vehicles is not that surprising. The 70’s disco music was a running gag throughout the book, as was 70’s television shows that didn’t end up in the film. (One gag left out of the film from the book, as the director of NASA absorbs the realization that Mark Watney is alone on Mars with no way to communicate with home: “I wonder what he’s thinking?” Followed immediately by: “How does Aquaman control whales? They’re mammals. It makes no sense.”

    With respect to butt-ugly – Hollywood wants faces that will put butts in theater seats. Butt-ugly doesn’t do that. As far as “excessive tokens,” it’s interesting that one character who was supposed to be Korean was played instead by a pretty, white girl. Mindy Park, the Mission Control engineer responsible for all the data coming back from the satellites orbiting Mars is played by Makenzie Davis. Vincent Kapoor, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor was supposed to be Venkat Kapoor played (as in the novel) by Indian actor Irrfan Khan, but Kahn had accepted another role and could not be two places at once.

    • I haven’t yet read the book so I can’t compare casting. However, I’m not too flaked out that a Korean character in the book becomes a pretty white girl in the movie. (You know, because there are just so many darned pretty white girl physicists in the world. Is it possible for a rockin’ smart brainiac mission control engineer to be named Mindy? Where’s Mork?) But I digress; we all survived The Hobbit turning into a multi-picture video game so divergences from a book are to be expected. In terms of casting, any time I’m not beaten over the head by a “United Colors of Benneton” advertisement in the guise of a movie I’m happy and this movie made me happy.

      You’re also correct that butt ugly doesn’t happen in Hollywood for very good reasons. I suppose I can live with that.

      The 1970’s music was so amazingly close to Guardians of the Galaxy (a fine movie by the way!) I assumed it was shoehorned into the script as a marketing ploy. I shall henceforth consider it to be a coincidence. However if a third science fiction movie in the next six months joins Guardians of the Galaxy and The Martian and I have to see someone tinkering with a warp drive while Motown and ABBA play in the background I’m calling it a pattern. In fact I’m calling it a nefarious plot meant to kill brain cells.

      Further… how the heck does Aquaman control whales? That really does make no sense. 🙂

      • Max Damage says:

        In the 1979 television show “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” in the first episode, we see Tweeky the robot with headphones on and sort of dancing (though not doing The Robot, which would have been sort of cool). When asked, Buck explains that Tweeky was able to recover the data from Bucks cassette collection and is listening to Three Dog Night.

        No, I cannot explain why I remember that bit of an otherwise forgettable show.

        I do wonder if the 70’s music thing is a running gag by science fiction writers?

  3. SiGraybeard says:

    Linked back from my place. I was going to write a review, but it wouldn’t be as good as this.

  4. Vikki says:

    Thanks for the recommendation! We rarely (read: never) go to the movies because recently it has become consistently disappointing, but we went out for this one and enjoyed it immensely. Thanks again 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    Actually, it did suck. I know, I sat through the sappy rescue tale.

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