(nl) wrote: In real life, space travel is a very dangerous undertaking, but more often than not everything goes as planned. In movies, however, when characters venture into outer space, disaster is inevitable. I can't think of any movies set in space where something does not go wrong. The Martian is no different in that respect, but in many other ways it is quite exceptional. In the first moments of the film, the crew of Ares 3 must make an emergency evacuation from Mars as a dangerous storm heads toward their mission site. In the midst of the storm, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by flying debris and thrown far from the escape vehicle. Presuming Watney to be dead, the rest of the crew launches and begins their trip back to Earth; Watney awakes to find himself injured and alone on Mars. He makes his way back to the mission's living habitat and immediately starts figuring out how he is going to survive on a lifeless planet with very limited supplies until the next Ares mission arrives or a rescue mission can be sent, either of which would not be possible for at least three or four years. Though Damon is all alone for the scenes on Mars, The Martian is not entirely a one man show like the survival films Cast Away or All is Lost. Once Watney is able to reestablish communications with NASA and let them know he is alive, we see the scientists and administrators at NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) rally to find solutions to keep Watney alive and get him home. The team on Earth is made up of a great ensemble of familiar and lesser known actors including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Mackenzie Davis, and Benedict Wong. We also check in with the other five members of the Ares 3 crew: Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Michael Pea, and Jessica Chastain. Jeff Daniels, as the head of NASA, and Jessica Chastain, as Ares 3's commander, are both stand-outs playing competent, pragmatic, and decisive leaders. Between his performances in The Martian and in Steve Jobs as Apple president John Sculley (for which he should've received a Supporting Actor nomination), Daniels had a pretty good 2015. Chastain, no stranger to playing strong, badass characters, might be a bit young to be a mission commander, but she is completely believable as a good leader with natural authority. I know that if I were going to Mars, I'd feel secure with her as my mission commander.What sets The Martian apart from other science fiction movies is its heavy emphasis on science. It is based on a novel by Andy Weir which began as a blog in which Weir would present a problem facing an astronaut stranded on Mars, then research and post a solution. If one of his readers noticed something was incorrect or just seemed amiss, he would go back and fix the inaccuracy. The film adaptation's scientific accuracy has received the approval of NASA's director of planetary science, Jim Green, and for science enthusiasts (a.k.a. geeks) like myself, this is very exciting. However, whether or not everything in the film is 100% accurate is not as important as how problem solving and the scientific method are portrayed. Each life-threatening problem that Watney faces on Mars is entirely likely and the solutions are plausible. There's no moment where a character just tries something dangerous and hopes for the best-all the dangerous behavior in The Martian is backed up by meticulous calculations. I've never heard so many lines in a movie about how the math "checks out." Perhaps most important of all, and most accurate to real scientific problem solving, is how Watney's rescue is a team effort. Science is about solving a problem in the best and most efficient way possible, and the characters in The Martian know that means putting several minds to work and accepting help. Watney solves the problems of living on Mars with the help of the people at NASA and JPL and uses the things left behind by his fellow crew members to help him survive (like the wood from a crucifix to start a fire). In an act of international cooperation between scientists-not governments-the head of the Chinese Space Agency volunteers their rocket booster to help send Watney a delivery of food and supplies. And it is a young, eccentric scientist working in Astrodynamics for another NASA mission (Donald Glover) who comes up with the daring plan to get Watney home. Matt Damon has no one to act against in his scenes on Mars, but he still gives an engaging, lively performance that fills out all of his scenes and keeps the movie's pace flowing steadily. Through his video logs he indirectly addresses the audience which is an obvious, but effective, way to engage viewers and let us know what Watney is doing and why. His scenes on Mars are compelling and funny, too-demonstrating that having a positive attitude is important to persevering through any life-or-death situation. The Martian caught a lot of flak from critics for being submitted to the Golden Globe Awards as a comedy, but it is a pretty funny movie. Watney makes jokes and wisecracks throughout the film, which Damon is great at delivering. Perhaps in addition to raising interest in science, The Martian will also make people realize that science fiction does not always have to be dark and dour.The Martian presents science fiction in a way we rarely see done successfully: as a non-esoteric, engaging blend of real science and entertainment. I loved the pro-science message of The Martian and I hope it does get people more interested in science and the universe. I enjoyed The Martian when I saw it in theaters, but when I watched it again recently...I loved it. I wish this movie were a stronger contender for Best Picture and I think I'll always be surprised that Ridley Scott did not receive a nomination for Best Director. Every shot of The Martian brims with serious, honest effort and execution and at the helm is Ridley Scott. Damon managed to snag an Oscar nomination for Best Actor which he is unfortunately unlikely to win, but which he completely deserves. In Interstellar, my favorite movie of 2014, Damon played an astronaut whom others believed to represent "the best of us;" however, when put to the test, he demonstrated the worst sides of human nature. The characters in The Martian, are truly the best of us because they are able to put aside selfish impulses and rise to the occasion when a fellow human is in need. It is an ideal vision of NASA, but an immensely satisfying one. Everyone snaps into action, puts their brains to work, and sets aside self-interests-even if it means accepting help from other countries--and works together. If there ever is a manned mission to Mars, I imagine that it will bear many similarities to the expedition presented in The Martian; and hopefully, unlike the fictional mission, the real mission will be disaster-free. However, if you were stuck on Mars, you'd want people like the characters in The Martian working to keep you alive and get you home.