Rated: PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity. Reviewed by: Frank Release date: October 2, 2015 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
If Mark Watney (Matt Damon) was aware that water has been discovered running in streams on Mars part of his problems would have been solved. In the film The Martian food and water are critical to his survival alone on the red planet which is probably four years away from the next arrival and help from Earth.
Watney is part of a team of astronauts who are exploring on Mars when a significant wind storm requires the group to leave the surface quickly before the wind creates a situation where the rocket will not be in a position to take off. Watney is blown away by the significant wind storm and appears to be lost by the other members of his crew. When he awakes he is alone, has limited food, and has a wound in his stomach. What we see from there on is his ability to survive and attempts back on Earth to send help in the form of supplies to him for survival during his sustained period alone nearly 100 million miles from home.
It is impossible not to compare this fiction to the real story of Apollo 13 beautifully presented by Director Ron Howard of the true story of the American failed mission to the Moon which was dramatically saved by the actions both on the Earth and on the space craft, but this is fiction and it has the ability to be even more dramatic, and with more spectacular use of film (in 3D) along with many more views of future space travel equipment. In other words this is fiction that is based on the best guess for the future when a team of adventures will travel to that planet, land and explore that fascinating planet that appears red in the sky.
Watney's speciality on the mission is botany which provides him with an advantage because he knows he will need to grow food if he is to survive the long period alone in space. Potatoes become his best friend and he creatively uses what is available to help grow more of the vegetable for survival. Over time the grub gets quite low and he is forced to use smaller and smaller portions of his limited food supply in order to stretch it to fill the time required. While his experience is dangerous and at times is filled with set backs he maintains a sense of humor which limits the tension and allows us to understand how a person could live alone and in danger for as long as he must to survive.
On Earth Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) is the head of NASA who is a very cautious organization head. He doesn't want to endanger the remainder of the crew to save the one person that has fallen behind and he is very concerned with the image of the agency he is responsible for. Without saying he is a typical bureaucrat who is attempting to get through the crisis without creating any shadows on his agency. Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Kristen Wig as Anne Montrose are advisers who are not sure the safe way is the way to go. I guess Daniels is somewhat of a villain but only through caution.
Jessica Chastain is the leader of the crew which Watney was a part of and is on her way back to Earth with her crew in which Rick Martinez (Michael Pena) is a key player particularly near the end of the film. The space craft which departed Mars as Watney fell into the red dust has been traveling for months back toward Earth not knowing Watney has survived. At the same time NASA is planning to launch a ship with supplies to be sent to Mars to arrive just in time to provide food and other needs to allow the lost man to sustain himself until the next crew arrives. The international cooperation in that endeavor is enjoyable to watch as space agencies from foreign countries supply needed equipment for the launch.
The human factor arises again at the climax of the film and is very prominent at the end. But for much of the film the photography and the design of the space craft along with the living quarters on Mars are remarkable to view. For those of us who were impressed and inspired by the painted backgrounds of science fiction films in the past, the work here is spectacular and beautiful. With 3D and a large screen we feel as though we are in space looking at the small dots which are planets millions of miles away and the movement of the space ship as it travels the long journey in the void of space is as realistic as can be. The calculation of how to save Watney comes from Donald Glover who plays Rich Purnell in a small part that becomes important when he uses him skill to show all the folks with higher positions and degrees that "if we do this" we can save him.
Director Ridley Scott has put it all together a story of loneliness mixed with the massive effort by many to save the one man and the gigantic audience on Earth following each careful step in the process of rescue. It is exciting and even when the technical details are given short shift it appears that all the bases have been touched. This is an exciting enjoyable trip lost in space.