The Martian

Twentieth Century Fox              141 Minutes               PG 13

Matt Damon had “the right stuff” to be the astronaut stranded on Mars according to Andy Weir. He’s the creator of this detailed and reportedly scientifically accurate Sci-Fi adventure. Weir says his hero had to be able y to handle the technology, stress, calm and solitude to make his attempts at rescue seem believable and we agree, he does. And it is even more relevant in light of the recent announcement about the discovery of water on Mars and the possibility of a NASA manned flight in the 2030s.

Damon’s multifaceted and very human portrayal of Mark Watney makes you care if he’s going to survive or not. Plus the drama of his rescue becomes the ultimate event to bring the world together, much like the 2010 Chilean mine disaster.  Damon, as Mark Watney, has a frustrating series of calamities to overcome. Every time you think that’s it, he keeps finding solutions for seemingly unsolvable problems.

Weir wrote this tale as a blog and put it up for free! Per fan requests, he sold it in downloadable form on Amazon for 99 cents! It became a book and then a script written by Drew Goddard who was going to direct, but dropped out for another project. Goddard called it a “love letter to science” and it is.

Enter legendary Director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) who attracts big name actors like flies. The cast is packed with talent. Besides Damon and Chastain who plays the commander of the Hermes Mars spacecraft that left him behind, there are stellar (pun intended) performances from Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, and Kristen Wiig.

Scott was set to do a Prometheus sequel until he read this script. He calls it “Castaway” in space. Yes, it reminded us of that film, and also of “Gravity.”

Damon told Scott he didn’t want to be in a film like Interstellar where he also played a stranded space traveler and co-starred with Jessica Chastain. Scott assured him that this was very different and it is. The director convinced him saying it would not be a problem since it came out over a year before The Martian. Damon says Weir did a lot of research and claims that every single thing, from water to food and the passing of time, down the minute, is based on real science. They even used a real Pathfinder craft and the sibling is still one up there on Mars. NASA had to sign off on a good portion of the science in the script to be associated with the movie. That intrigued the actor.

You won’t want to take your eyes off the screen when the crew gets hit with a freak super storm on Mars. Red debris from the planet is flying right at you. You may feel the need to duck to avoid getting hit, particularly if you see it in IMAX 3D, which we don’t often recommend. In this case it works. The scenes of Mars’ landscape were shot in the Wadi Rum red desert in Jordan. And Production /designer Arthur says they built sets in Budapest, Hungary which has the largest sound stage in the world to create Mars and the space crafts.

Damon says it’s amazing to work with master directors. He says Scott’s vision was really terrifying. Any favorite scene? He says no. Every day on the set was fun, even wearing that skin tight space suit! It was modeled after a NASA design, but streamlined and made to look “cool.” Unfortunately, Michael Peña, Damon and Chastain say it was not cool temperature-wise, but hot! Chastain got a cooling suit to wear underneath her space suit on advice from her Interstellar costar, Anne Hathaway. Peña says it was like wearing a wet suit. He used cooling packs to try to stop sweatin…when he remembered to use them.

Scott and Damon both describe this as really 3 films in one. You’re watching Mark Watney try to survive on Mars. You’re also following the crew of the Hermes Mars Spacecraft that left Mars and their crew member behind. And then seeing Mission Control trying to figure out how to save whoever they can.

Damon says those three parts of the movie were so separate that 55 actors had wrapped the movie before he even came on the scene. The crew of the Hermes had to be trained for weightlessness but he did not, because it wasn’t part of his environment. And because of the separate movie’s structure, he has only 3 scenes with his Commander, played by Jessica Chastain.

Damon’s character is smart, resourceful, raunchy and at the same time, extremely human. He realistically faces death knowing he has to survive for years before there’s any chance of rescue. He’s determined to live as long as he can and devises a pretty clever plan. He finds an ingenious way to grow spuds in alien soil. They actually grew a potato farm on the set. Ketchup and duct tape get praise and nice product placement, too.

There’s a lot of dry humor in this film and Kate Mara, who plays, Beth Johanssen, the computer geek on board the Hermes, says Damon was hilarious on set. He’s funny, sarcastic, edgy and sometimes kind of gross, but he’s the kind of actor who can pull it off. His character has fun entertaining himself bashing disco music. Director Scott says Damon is a comedian with a great sense of humor and it comes through. He’s very likable in this role.

Is this worth your bucks? Ridley Scott has done it again. There are 3 concurrent stories that make sense. The interaction of scientists and NASA officials played by Jeff Daniels and Chewitel Ejiofor portrays a serious race against time. While the teams search for answers both on Earth and on Mars, it draws you in. Each of the tasks take steps and time, but we were never bored.

Damon makes the character likable and we wanted to see what he’d come up with next. He and the rest of the crew must have had fun pressing all those buttons. And you’ll have fun seeing them in space. The Martian is out of this world…and back.

The Martian