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The Martian
gravity works
Ina and I went to see 'The Martian' at the local cinema yesterday. I haven't read the book (though it may well be my sort of thing) and the director, Ridley Scott, is someone about whom I am very, very ambivalent; all of his pictures are ravishingly shot, but he seems to loathe science and logic and historical research (or he picks screenwriters who do.) I still think Alien his best movie, but I am one of the two people in the world who dislikes every single cut of Blade Runner (the other one is my housemate, inamac), whose DVD index labels Black Hawk Down as CBATF (Can't be arsed to finish), and who put her foot down after Robin Hood (which Ina forced me to watch) as "No more Scott pseudo-historicals, please." This may be a little hypocritical of me, because I really liked Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven despite being full of bad history and so placed them in an 'alternate universe' category.

But the reviews said this was Scott's best movie in years, that it was clever and funny and, save for some named exceptions, scientifically accurate and that Matt Damon, of whom I am fond, was brilliant in it. Ina and I rarely have the same taste in movies, though I have learned to trust her judgement about some movies she walks out on (and am trusting it completely about The Man from UNCLE) but this time she wanted to see it too. (I suspect this was because there were not going to be any long fight/sex sequences in it and no big robots bashing each other.)

She didn't walk out. She didn't go to sleep. Her only complaint was that she couldn't hear some of the dialogue, which seeing as she had deliberately left her hearing aid at home...

And me? I loved it to bits. It reminded me forcefully of why I have always loved 'hard' science fiction - I am pretty sure that people like John W. Campbell Jr and Hal Clement would have adored it too. And the protagonist, Mark Watney, is surely a good example of Heinlein's 'competent man.' It is tense, interesting and often very funny and the Martian landscapes are stunningly portrayed.

On the other hand, if you are not interested in watching brilliant minds 'science their way out of this' then forget it. There is one action sequence towards the end, and another features one the acknowledged scientific inaccuracies - the force of a Martian wind - but without that one there would be no story. (And if, like Mark Watney, you hate 'disco' music, then you might well dislike the sound track, though the sound of rockets taking off shakes your seat superbly.)

The plot is simple enough. NASA has sent several missions to Mars. The current one has to evacuate early, leaving behind a colleague who they are sure is dead. Only, by chance, he isn't. As the rest of the crew fly back to Earth, Watney, a botanist and astronaut with a wicked sense of humour, typical astronaut calm and resourcefulness (they pick 'em for it, always have), an optimistic nature and a total refusal to give in, starts working out how to survive until the next expedition arrives, and how, if he can't contact NASA, how he can reach the place where that expedition is due to land.

Back on Earth, various functionaries and scientists at NASA (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Bruce Ng) work out how to play Watney's death to the media and how it will affect future missions - then, when they realise he is still alive - how they might be able to rescue him, and what they should risk, given the deadlines.

Things do not go smoothly. And, eventually, the attempted rescue involves both mutiny (the spaceship crew, led by Jessica Chastain) and technical piracy (Watney's), Chinese help (I found some of these sequences particularly moving, but that's me), bodging a spaceship, bomb building, and some really risky manoeuvring.

I found this utterly fascinating and often very tense.

And boy, is this movie uplifting.

Though most of the acting is competent enough, it is Damon who carries it on his shoulders, and it would take a real effort of will not to engage with his humour, his cheerfulness and his struggle to survive. But this is science fiction, which has always been the fiction of ideas, and it is the science and engineering that drive The Martian. Don't look for mental breakdowns, cheesy love stories, parent/child angst or eye-rollingly bad philosophy (and yes, Interstellar I'm looking at you) because you won't find those things (or bookcases on the other side of a Black Hole - sheesh!)

This is a fun movie! The new Star Wars movie is going to have to be very, very good indeed to beat it to the Hugo.

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Thanks for the review! You're a tough critic, and your recommendation means a lot to me. I'm hoping to see it soon, even though I rarely venture into movie theaters except for silents with live accompaniment.

Wow! Thank you for the compliment. Actually, I think you may like this one.

I'm so pleased you loved it! Mr Brammers read the book when it was self-published and has been raving about it for ages. We both went to see the film and I loved it as much as he did, so promptly read the book the following day. I think you would enjoy that very much, too. There is one sequence of scenes with Johansson in the book that I still gasp/laugh at, so if you decide you don't have time to read it, let me know and I will tell you that bit.

And YES to the Chinese! 'If we leave it to politicians, it won't happen, so we should make this an agreement between scientists.'

I'm so glad you also had this reaction to the film! I intend to read the book real soon now...

Thanks for this review. I haven't seen it yet as we're in France at the moment and I think this is one where I need to make sure I follow all of it, even though I have read the book. I absolutely loved the book and very definitely recommend reading it. For me it was sci-fi at it's best.

Thank you. I'm going to order a copy.

I LOVED this movie so much. I've already seen it twice, and I highly highly recommend the book. It's even funnier than the movie, and has more science and adventures than the movie was able to fit in.

On the strength of you're review I now fully intend to see this film. If you say it's good it must be good and like you I love the sci in sci-fy.

I do worry about the number of people on this thread saying that if I liked it it must be good - but Ina liked it too, and at the last count it was 93% fresh with the pro critics on Rotten Tomatoes and 94% with the audience.

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