Although there are others in the cast, Matt Damon has as much solo screentime as Keir Dullea's epic re-entry into the Discovery spacecraft to lobotomize HAL in 2001 (a year which seemed a long way off when it was released in 1968) . . . but now, here in 2015, we have learned much more about surrounding space, especially intriguing Mars, which beckons both the rocket science community . . . and movie producers.The Martian is the latest in a series of trips-to-Mars movies, from the dismal The Angry Red Planet of 1959, to the eye-popping Total Recall, (1990) where enterprising capitalists on Mars are selling oxygen to the colonists, and hiding the source from them.
In Red Planet (2000), Val Kilmer, trudges over the surface of Mars -- the lone survivor of the original landing party. discovers that a Martian variation of a nasty exploding katydid exhales oxygen, making the tenuous atmosphere breathable, and then he finds, and manages to activate, an old Russian launch vehicle which can serve as his ticket back to the waiting orbiter and his ride home with his love-interest commander.
The simultaneously released Mission to Mars (also from 2000) postulates that a once fertile and watery Mars was hit by a large errant asteroid, and its oceans and atmosphere were knocked off into space, forcing a migration of Martian life to Earth, implying that their DNA landed here and evolved to become our progenitors. The 3D rotating graphics are cool, but life seems to be moving in the opposite direction, toward Mars, with the extensive preparations now in the works as we can see on NASA-TV.
This brings us to The Martian. There is no need to detail the plot. It is suffice to say that this movie is visually and technically satisfying with enough depth in each character to make it believable. We get the feeling that we are seeing a good portion of Mars, with its violent weather and cyclonic clouds, and how treacherous it can all be when air locks fail. But air locks can also save the day when they are blown off for the right reasons, and the satisfying nature of this film is how well the story is laid out, using only what is on hand, extending a Mars mission far beyond its intended parameters. Andy Weir, the author of the book, was masterful in explaining how this could be done, and Matt Damon, as stranded Astronaut Mark Watney gets his spuds lined up in an equally knowledgable and logical manner.
Mission Control on Earth is replicated with complex authenticity, including Jeff Daniels as the Director of NASA, with difficult decisions to make and not make.
The crew aboard the interplanetery spacecraft, Hermes, makes the right decision, led by Jessica Chastain as Commander Lewis, sustained by a vote of the stellar crew, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, Mackenzie Davis, Aksel Hennie and Kate Mara.
Director Ridley Scott left some intriguing portions of the book out of his movie; but all in all, he has captured the full essence of what needed to be told. Without giving anything away, the closing scenes will remind you of Mission to Mars, and that's just fine.
This is a terrific movie about life on Mars, and the lack thereof, and is a fulfilling adventure that has no need of aliens or scare tactics . . . just pure entertainment.