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Home (cover) > Reel Life (movie section) > Film Reviews > 2015

A Reel Life film section

Issue: Spring 2015

The Martian (2015) movie review

Martian Come Home

Well ... this is clearly the one movie you would have to beat for next year's Hugo. As others have pointed out, it is an instant classic. And it earns a strong place on that very short list of movies that are actually about the science in science fiction. (2001, Gattaca, 1953 War of the Worlds and uh...I'll get back to you.)

There are a few minor points to nitpick. That extra little bit of action in the last few moments of rescue felt like a smidge too far. Yes, I was on the edge of my seat, but I was also conscious that they had abandoned the methodical problem-solving that had made the story so inspiring for some last minute seat-of-the-pants action.

Movie Poster, The Martian, Festivale film review by David Gerrold; 220x325

Movie poster, The Martian
Bring Him Home

A larger nit -- and its one that tends to defeat all filmmakers -- is the fact that the gravity on Mars is only 38% of the gravity on Earth. This means that astronauts spending prolonged time in reduced gravity are likely to experience some loss of muscle mass and bone density.

A larger nit -- and its one that tends to defeat all filmmakers -- is the fact that the gravity on Mars is only 38% of the gravity on Earth. This means that astronauts spending prolonged time in reduced gravity are likely to experience some loss of muscle mass and bone density.

Equally important is the way you portray that lesser gravity. Things fall slower. People jump higher -- not as high as John Carter -- but definitely the lesser gravity affects the physics. In Earth-normal gravity, we walk by leaning forward, then putting one foot in front of the other to keep from falling down. In lesser gravity, you have to lean a lot farther forward to create that forward momentum. That's why we have video of our lunar astronauts inventing a new way of walking, a kind of bouncing forward. On Mars, it wouldn't be as extreme, but our Martian astronauts will have a Martian shuffle, or they'll have to lean farther forward. I'm pretty sure NASA has experimented with simulating low-gravity walking. It shouldn't be too hard to counter-weight a person to reduce their weight to Lunar or Martian equivalents.

And finally, one more nit -- I have this from an actual NASA scientist. Going from one level to another in a spaceship's centrifuge is likely to induce dizziness and nausea.

Okay, never mind all that -- the 99% that Ridley Scott and his crew got right is an overwhelming success.

But there are two other points to be made about The Martian, and both are important.

First, this is an optimistic picture -- it makes Mars real. It puts Mars into the national conversation. It gives us a goal even more inspiring than the moon. It gives us a direction for the next frontier.

Movie poster, The Martian, Festivale film review; 220x325

Second, every problem that this picture demonstrates -- as well as every solution -- will end up being included in all future Mars mission planning. How do we make sure that The Martian remains a work of fiction? How do we protect our astronauts?

I expect that this movie will reinvigorate our national focus on space. I certainly hope so.

A couple of other points -- since the book was written, since the script was written, since the movie was filmed -- there have been a lot of interesting breakthroughs in materials, fuel, engines, and other bits of technology. So some of the tech portrayed in the film is already obsolete -- but, the filmmakers were right not to extrapolate anything too far out. The movie had to stay grounded in realism.

I'm not sure I agree with one plot point -- SPOILER -- that NASA would withhold information from the crew of the Ares III. There would have been more drama if they had been kept in the loop from the beginning -- and it would have motivated their later decision even more.

Okay, all that aside -- the picture is uniformly brilliant. It's uncompromising. And I will be disappointed if it doesn't get nominations for Best Script, Best Director, and Best Picture of the Year at the Oscars. It will certainly be the leading contender for the Hugo. No other movie I've seen this year even comes close.

And one last point -- SPOILER -- this is the first movie I've seen where Sean Bean survives. Wow.

And -- the song used for the closing credits -- perfect.


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by David Gerrold
Australian release 30 September 2015

photograph, David Gerrold; 170x253

David Gerrold is a American-based writer of short and long fiction and scripts.

Interview with David Gerrold; David Gerrold: Me and Science Fiction; Stucture, Structure, Structure (commentary); Gerrold answers The Usual Questions (interview); Movie Review, The Martian Child; David Gerrold film/tv listing (IMDB)
Author's web site
David Gerrold on Facebook

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Just the facts:

Title: The Martian (2015)
Written by: Andy Weir (book); Drew Goddard (screenplay)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Running time: 141 min
Rating: M

The Players: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean,

Official website
IMDb entry

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