Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Saw The Martian Yesterday

     The Martian is a darned fine film, not merely one of a tiny number of hard-SF films that gets the numbers right* but a movie that gets the characters right, too, from the habitual fitness of astronauts through a wide array of geeks, bureaucrats -- and geeks-turned-bureaucrats -- and even to a few "regular people," spouses and TV reporters.  It's a big cast and we spend a lot more time with Matt Damon, trying not to die, alone on Mars, but they're part of what makes the film work.

     Another part -- a big part -- is the planet itself.  This is a film that knows its roots.  If you remember the 1956 book The Exploration Of Mars (Willy Ley, Werner von Braun and Chesley Bonestell), The Martian's "Ares II expedition" looks like an updated version of it, in a setting that is more than merely evocative of the Bonestell paintings (with, I think, a touch of Maxfield Parrish: that light!).  Mars itself is one of the film's characters, from vast, red-sand landscapes to terrifying storms.  Will Mars really look that way to the first explorers to see it for themselves?  I don't know (and it depends where they land), but I doubt it will be all that different.  (There's a more-overt Bonestell connection in the film, too.)

     The movie is a celebration of problem-solving, of the will to survive and the wit to make it happen.  Some reviewers have complained the plot relies too much on coincidence and luck, but I disagree.  Oh, there are a few "stretchers" and one point where the odds are so far out of whack that you'll have to power past it (trust me, by then you'll be up for it), but most of the "luck" is the kind that comes to the prepared mind, already working on the problem -- the kind of intense geekery that you're not going to get if you've never Been There or Done That, the sort of thing that if you don't work in some kind of science or applied technology, you may never have experienced the, "oh, of course" moment of realizing a totally orthogonal solution will work.

     If you like SF (and especially if you find most SF films disappointing), if you like stories where the good guys win through determination and intelligence, if you're a techie or boffin of any sort -- see this film.  You'll be glad you did.
* Despite the dated style, Destination Moon springs to mind, and the more biologically-inclined Gattaca.  Parts of 2001 as well.  Past that, your cinematic SF choices are mostly horror (e.g., the generally well-done Alien films) or various flavors of space-opera gee-whiz fantasy that play very fast and loose with physics and science in general past the handful of impossibilities essential to the yarn (which was my problem with Serenity, which went much worse that way than Firefly) and most of which also ignore or mock the conventions or written SF.  Exceptions are incredibly rare -- Predestination (the film adaptation of Heinlein's All You Zombies) is striking for exactly that reason. The various Philip K. Dick books that have been translated to film have held up well.  Star Wars and Star Trek films are good fun with reasonable internal consistency, but they're fantasy space opera: stirring stories you could probably file the off details of and reshoot as cowboy, war-story or pirate films without much effort.


Lupis42 said...

I must admin, the wife and I saw it, and we both left disappointed - there wasn't enough of the problem solving, because there weren't enough problems. The biggest problem with the movie is the book, or more precisely, the audiobook - which is excellent, and far more exciting than the movie was.

Roberta X said...

Remember, even a long film isn't much more than a novella-worth of story, and some of the best are much shorter. This is a problem comparing books and films.

Lupis42 said...

Oh, agreed - if you see the movie before reading the book, it should be fine. I was just hoping for a few more problems to crop up in the second half - let it get to Apollo 13 length, say.

Joe Allen said...

And, 'Star Wars' is 'Hidden Fortress' with the serial numbers filed off and, when NBC was shopping for another western to replicate the success of 'Bonanza', Gene Rodenberry pitched them 'Star Trek' as a sort of "Wagon Train to the Stars".

As indefensible scientifically as most cinematic "syfy" is, I'll bet that what inspired most of the people who are actually Getting Things Done to enter the field of space exploration would be a childhood desire to live and work on the Enterprise, the Millenium Falcon or, in a few years, Serenity.

Guffaw in AZ said...

Star Trek/Wars = Space opera, as Westerns are horse opera.

Nice to hear something has been done well.


Comrade Misfit said...

I thought the movie was an excellent adaptation of the book. Yes, they left out the "Pathfinder-murdering drill" and the rolling of the rover when it drove down the side of a crater, but, as you noted, there's only so much that can go into a screenplay.

Anonymous said...

Hey Roberta and Tam. Here is a link to attacks on the Monon trail apparently not too far from where you live. Please be careful!


Roberta X said...

Anon: it was north of us. Also, there are no firearms restrictions along the Monon. Make of that what you will.