Movie Review: A new standard for sci-fi

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“The Martian” brings scientific accuracy, excellent storytelling, and extraterrestrial drama

Every once in a while, Hollywood produces a film that is truly out of this world.

Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 bestselling novel of the same name, “The Martian” tells the story of an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who goes missing on a manned mission to Mars and is presumed dead. Through resourceful use of limited resources, grit, determination and no small amount of luck, he must survive until someone can send a rescue mission—if anyone can get to him in time.

This movie has already made headlines with how scientifically accurate it is, with none other than Neil DeGrasse Tyson holding up the film as a gold standard for the rest of the industry to follow. More than that, though, the usual rule of “accuracy makes for a boring film” is completely invalidated by “The Martian,” which remains a tense, thrilling, and inspiring tale throughout the entire run-time. Instead of letting scientific accuracy weigh it down, writer Andy Weir uses science to heighten the stakes and ground the story in the real world, while legendary director Ridley Scott makes every scene gripping and weighty.

“The Martian” could not work if Damon weren’t such a phenomenal actor. The vast majority of his scenes are solo, with him only interacting with his environment and his camera, through which his character keeps video logs to help maintain his sanity. As he tries to contact earth and survive in an astronaut habitat not made to support the kind of multi-year mission he has found himself in. Damon brings a great deal of life to this character, alternating well between determination and despair, and while at times he seems like he may be a little old for the role it is hard to imagine anyone who could do it better.

The rest of the cast is quite good, as Ridley Scott’s experience in bringing out great science fiction performances really shines through. Jessica Chastain is a particular standout as Commander Melissa Lewis, who is responsible for trying to save Watney. No other actors particularly stand out in the sizable cast, though there are no bad performances. The script just calls for too many characters to allow any one outside the main characters to be noticed. While not a bad thing, the sheer number of characters feels like a relic of the original novel that should have been simplified more for the silver screen.

“The Martian” is a really good movie that is written by someone who really understands science and adapted into a great science fiction survival story by someone who really understands science fiction filmmaking. Damon and Scott work together to create some of the most gripping and naturally charismatic scenes in recent science fiction movie history, the writing is phenomenal, the cast ranges from solid to great and the story itself is breathtaking and inspiring. This is easily the best science fiction film in the last five years, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to science enthusiasts and film geeks everywhere. Final score 90/100.

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