November 30, 2015
Family Film Blogging: The Martian
Posted by Christine Hurt

We are very late in seeing The Martian, but I will say better late than never!  My husband went with my fourteen year-old and I, and that is saying something.  He also was heard to say "That was a great movie."

So, after seeing Gravity and Interstellar, I definitely think The Martian is the best of both of those movies.  Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind on Mars, but the movie is not just him talking to himself.  Scenes with Watney are interspersed nicely with scenes of the team back at NASA trying to get him back and with scenes of his crew on their space voyage home.  And, when we are with Watney on Mars, he is doing interesting things, not just floating around.  And, unlike Interstellar, the movie doesn't bog down and is much more compelling.  Though long, every scene seems necessary and important -- and is enjoyable.

Back to the plot:  Watney is part of a six-man crew that is supposed to spend about a month on Mars collecting soil and other space stuff.  While five of them are out of the "hab" doing just that, a sudden, blinding severe dirt storm hits them.  (From my internet research, the author of the book, Andy Weir, acknowledges that this wouldn't happen on Mars, but it was necessary for the plot.)  The storm threatens to destroy their spaceship and ride home, so the commander (Jessica Chastain) orders the astronauts to the spaceship to blast off and away.  During the short walk to the ship, the crew's communication equipment snaps free and hits Watney.  The crew gets the audio message that Watney's suit has been breached, meaning death within 60 seconds.  After looking for him for most of those seconds, the commander determines he is a goner and they blast off back to Earth.  NASA announces that Watney died on Mars, and life goes on.  

And it goes on for Watney.  Apparently, the antenna that impaled him and breached his suit somehow sealed his suit, so he lived.  But he's all alone with limited rations and no way that anyone from Earth can reach him for months, even if they knew he was alive.  (Depending on where the two planets are in orbit relative to one another, travel can take anywhere from 160 days to 300 days, and that does not include building and readying the ship and crew.)  Eventually, NASA turns its satellites to Mars to see how much material was left on the planet, then they notice someone is moving the crew's vehicle around.  Aha!  Watney must be alive.  Then, the fun begins as each side tries to figure out how to communicate with one another.  During this time, Watney (a botanist) figures out how to grow food in the "hab."  Eventually, NASA must figure out a rescue plan.  Then everything falls apart.

The great part of the movie is the problem-solving.  As Watney explains to his video log, he has to "science the s--t" out of this.  And he does.  Between his logical thinking and the minds back at NASA, a plan forms, and then Watney's old crew will have to do some problem solving on the fly.  If you loved the scene in Apollo 13 in which the engineers throw all of the material the astronauts have on the ship with them onto a table and try to figure out a contraption to make a CO2 filter, then you'll love this whole movie.

This was definitely one of the best movies we've seen all year.  Who wouldn't want to bring Matt Damon home?  (Apparently his parents, who are mentioned once but never appear at all.)  We did take our eighth-grader, who enjoyed it.  The movie is a little like The King's Speech (which I let my kids watch when they were tweens) in that it has some isolated cursing.  Watney does let the F-word fly at least twice (and really, if you can get left behind on Mars and not curse, then you are really disciplined), and then the movie walks a line showing him soundlessly cursing, typing his cursing, etc.  I never thought KS should have been rated R, and I'm not sure how Martian escaped the same fate.  (Who can say no to Matt Damon?)  To me, it's a perfectly fine (and basically family-friendly) movie.

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