ANDY Weir wrote a book. Drew Goddard adapted it into a screenplay for Ridley Scott to direct. Nothing in the credits for “The Martian” acknowledges Daniel Defoe who, in 1719, published the novel on which his reputation survives, about Alexander Selkirk, marooned for four years on a South Pacific island as punishment for arguing with the captain of the ship on which he was a crewman.
Cut to a few decades or perhaps even centuries after our present time. Alexander Selkirk has become Mark Watney (Matt Damon), the botanist on a mission to Mars. Botanist? Mars? How can that be? No worries. In the movies, all is possible.
The other members of the expedition led by Lewis (Jessica Chastain) depart in haste following a bad weather event, believing that Watney is dead. But no, he was only unconscious. And now he has to survive until NASA hears his calls and organises his rescue.
Watney can grow potatoes to augment the rations left behind. He can play with the communications equipment and the rover vehicles and apply everything else that’s available to make his life comfy. His attitude is fatalistic.
Much of the credit for the appearance of “The Martian” belongs to the unsung backroom heroes who designed and supervised the construction of its sets and related paraphernalia. By the time Watney needs them, the logisticians have carted enough stuff up to build several supply bases on the Red Planet. Payload limitations haven’t been a problem. In the movies, anything is possible.
It’s science fiction handsomely mounted to surmount dramatic improbabilities, with good tensions and amusing earth-bound political shenanigans, including a gratefully-accepted Chinese offer to provide a vehicle to help the rescue. The closing credits take about 135 minutes to appear.
I can’t help wondering how “The Martian” might have evolved if recent discoveries about Mars’ environment had been known before it was written.
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