Tuesday, October 13, 2015     Volume: 30, Issue: 11

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New Times / Film

This weeks review

'Martian' is incredibly human




Where is it playing?: Sunset Drive-In, Downtown Centre, Fremont, Park, Stadium 10, Galaxy

What's it rated?: PG-13

What's it worth?: $9.50 (Anna)

What's it worth?: $10.00 (Glen)

User Rating: 7.50 (1 Votes)

Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) directs Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney, who during a manned mission to the red planet is left for dead after a terrible storm. His crew doesn’t realize he’s survived until they’ve begun the long journey back to Earth. Now stranded, he must find a way to survive until a rescue mission can reach him. Based on the novel by Andy Weir and adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, World War Z), the film also stars Michael Peña and Kate Mara. (141 min.)

Glen: Nothing brings people together like a common enemy or a common goal. The problem with a common enemy is it usually means war, but a common goal is about setting aside differences and coming together to solve problems. That’s the sentiment this feel-good film taps into. Damon’s Mark Watney is a likeable hero—resourceful, tenacious, and good natured. After he’s left for dead, it takes a few weeks before attentive NASA employee Mindy Parks (Mackenzie Davis) even notices movement of abandoned Mars equipment and posits the theory that Watney survived. In the meantime, we’ve watched him propagate potatoes and begin to formulate a plan to survive for four years and find a way to travel many kilometers away to meet the next planned mission to Mars. Watney’s ingenuity and the team of NASA employees that spring into action to find a way to save him make for gripping viewing. When the world discovers Watney’s alive, everyone seems invested in seeing him safely home. Color, creed, and nationality mean nothing in space. Out there, we’re all just human. 

Anna: Watney’s botany background is what keeps him alive; his ingenuity and problem solving skills lead to one survival idea after the next. A lot of Watney’s dialogue comes in the form of a video log he keeps for other astronauts to find if he doesn’t make it off of Mars. He’s got a good sense of humor, especially for a man trapped alone on a planet with dwindling resources and no communication line home. He takes on his less than ideal situation one problem at a time, and eventually finds a way to signal back to Earth. NASA is in a sticky situation, a PR nightmare that Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig) must somehow handle. Watney’s fellow crewmembers are on a 10-month journey home, unaware they left him alone and alive back on Mars. Jeff Daniels plays Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, who’s tasked with making the life-or-death decisions on how to get a man millions of miles away back to Earth. It’s never a black-and-white situation, and every misstep and hiccup weighs heavily on the people working to keep Watney alive.

Glen: The story’s engrossing precisely because nothing goes as planned. Every time Watney or NASA or his old crew solves one problem, another unforeseen issue pops up, and everything’s thrown into crises mode again. Desperation breeds ingenuity, and the will to survive becomes the overarching theme. The film really gets cooking in its final third, when it moves from survival to a rescue story. Here’s where people really start to work together. A lot of the tension back on Earth is between Sanders and Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean). As head of NASA, Sanders knows the politically smart move is to get five astronauts home safely, but when NASA math wiz Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) figures out a way to slingshot Watney’s old crew back to Mars for a risky rescue that will extend their time in space to nearly three full years, it’s Henderson who puts his career on the line to offer Watney’s crew a chance to make their own decision whether to rescue Watney. Jessica Chastain as Cmdr. Melissa Lewis is especially good here. She blames herself for leaving Watney, but she knows she can’t order her crew to further risk their lives to go back. It’s democracy in action. This is a big movie with a lot of characters and one plot twist after another, but at its core, it explores a very basic human quality: the desire to never leave anyone behind. Don’t be surprised if your faith in humanity is restored and you find yourself cheering out loud at the end. 

Anna: The film’s most fun when the action heats up, and there’s no shortage of nail-biting moments up until the very end. You can’t help but root for Watney and the rest of Lewis’ crew for a safe return to home, even when everything that can go wrong does. Watney has a great monologue that speaks to what is at the heart of this film. He says, “Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.” In the end, it’s about what others—especially his fellow crewmembers—are willing to sacrifice to make sure no one gets left behind.

Split Screen is written by New Times Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.