Movie Review: The Martian

The Martian

In the near future, six astronauts are on a mission to explore Mars. They are scheduled to be there for 31 days, performing scientific experiments. On day 18 an unexpected storm strikes and threatens to topple their ascent vehicle, stranding them all without hope for rescue. They decide to abort and leave. In the hustle back to the vehicle, one of them gets struck by flying debris from a broken antenna. When they can’t find him and he does not respond, the captain must make the decision to stay and search for him, dooming them all, or leave him for dead. They leave.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) wakes up a few hours later half buried in sand, with his oxygen alarms going off. He is impaled by an antenna rod, but he was lucky that this blood and the cold sealed his punctured suit and kept him alive.

Mark makes his way back to the habitat, operates on himself, and as he recovers he realizes he is completely alone on a planet, with rescue capability years in the future, in a habitat that was designed for a month, and with a total food supply of less than a year. And worst of all, he has no way to communicate to Earth or his crew, and nobody even knows that he is alive.

But Mark is a botanist, and a mechanical engineer, and he has lots of time.

The Martian is based on the novel by Andy Weir, which I have read and reviewed six months ago. The movie, surprisingly for a science fiction story of this complexity and with this kind of detail, follows the book’s plot quite closely and focuses on those parts that lend themselves to visualization. Thus, the movie does not replace the book, but it supplies superb visuals. I loved the shots of their spaceship, with its rotating crew habitats and the internal passageways to and from them. There were some great shots of crew members spinning around looking outside and observing the docking ports.

I also enjoyed very much the rescue mission and the problems with orbital trajectory matching. Ten feet per second does not sound like a large velocity when you just say it, but catching a human in orbit traveling at that speed is equivalent to standing at a railroad crossing, watching a slow-moving freight train rolling by, and catching somebody jumping off it. Go try that sometimes!

All in all, The Martian is a great science fiction movie with a plausible plot and a very human story.

Mark Watney is somewhat of a wise guy, and his dry humor actually makes for a funny movie.

If you have read and liked the book, you will most likely enjoy this movie. If you go and see the movie first, you’ll still want to read the book for endless additional detail.

Rating - Three and a Half Stars

Book Review: The Martian – by Andy Weir

Martian I went on a business trip to Seattle with several colleagues. At the airport in San Diego, one of them mentioned he had just finished a book he really liked: The Martian – by Andy Weir. It was about an astronaut stranded on Mars by himself, and his fight to survive.

I downloaded the book before I boarded the plane and started reading it on the way. I was in Washington for 3 nights. During the days I worked, and at night I read the book. I finished it on the plane back. I could not put this book down.

Mark Watney is one of a crew of six astronauts on a mission to Mars. They are planning on staying for a month. On the sixth day on the planet, a severe storm hits and they are forced to abort the mission and leave in an emergency takeoff. On the way to the ship, Mark gets injured by a flying antenna that punctures his space suit. The bio computer indicates flatlines. His crew mates think him dead and leave in a hurry because they are worried that the ship will be toppled.

But Mark is not dead. When he comes to and assesses the situation, he realizes that nobody knows he is alive, he has no way of communicating with Earth, the next mission to Mars, to a completely different location, is not scheduled for several years, even a rescue mission would take a year to reach him, if there could be one, and the habitat has food and supplies for six people for one month, or enough for one person for six months – not enough for him to survive.

But Mark is an astronaut, and he is resourceful. In MacGyver style he removes the antenna that has impaled him, and he realizes that he was lucky not to be injured seriously. Then he gets to work on a plan of survival.

The story switches between Mark’s log files as he tells the story, and the NASA team that tries to rescue him, as well as his crew mates on their way home. The action never stops.

This is an extremely technical novel. If you love stories about space travel, NASA, exploration and human ingenuity under extreme conditions, like I do, this is an amazingly entertaining and riveting story. If you don’t have an interest in learning what happens when a human breathes in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide in a closed environment, then this might be over your head and possibly even boring.

For the techies among us, this is an absolute must read. As I said, I could not put this book down.

I learned that there is a movie on the way – with Matt Damon playing Mark Watney. I can’t wait.

Rating - Three Stars