by Brenda W. Clough
I love near-future SF! You can have your galaxies far far away. Give me NASA! And in The Martian we get everything the space-SF fan could ever desire. Gravity slingshots! Settling new planets! It is like the Golden Age of SF on the big screen. The can-do attitude of the hero, the belated international cooperation, even the Mr. Fixit stuff — how Robert Heinlein would have enjoyed this film!
There are a couple of problems with how the story is put together (do the orbital mechanics really work out so neatly like that?), but I am going to leave that to people who can talk astrophysics, and instead point out how well the movie is constructed on the plot side. Just look at that beautiful, perfect plot diagram. We begin straight away with a problem: destructive conditions on Mars. The astronauts blow out in a hurry, accidentally leaving Mark behind. He immediately wins our hearts with an amazing competence, which saves his life and makes existence fairly comfortable. Meanwhile the suits back on earth are being all ass-covery, so we can hate them. Bang, disastrous complications ensue, heightening suspense and ensuring that this is not a simple triumphal ride to victory by Mark. Allies are called in (mustn’t forget the Asian market here! The Chinese film viewer will be happy), various geniuses do their thing, and we seem to be clawing our way to victory. Only then, as triumph is in sight, do we have a couple of sudden surprise difficulties which I do think do not stand up to Newtonian physics as we understand them. But this is the movies! Of course it all works out. And we fast-forward past all the mundane and drudgery bits, hitting only the high spots.
This is the perfect movie if you want to see how an action-adventure plot should be put together. Oh, and you get swoony space ship scenes, and Ridley Scott’s magnificent Mars panoramas. This is a movie for us, folks. Enjoy it! It will surely be on the Hugo and Neb ballots next year. (It won’t win, of course. Do I hear TIE fighters in the distance? Yes, the Force is strong in a movie that is coming out one week from today as I write this…)