The Martian: Proud to be Human- Will Vincent

The first sign was the clearing of a throat. You were sat down, cramped between a sea of furious scribbling and typing, as bleak, red eyes scanned a blurry slideshow. The show started at 9am on a Monday morning, and continued for another two hours. There went the idea of brunch.

You tried to listen to the life-saving information which was being presented to you, but something was getting in the way. The clearing of a throat, a few light sniffles, and then the unexpected explosion of coughing fits.

You guessed it: Freshers Flu season.

I’ve never been very good with illness. I think the whole ‘having asthma’ thing has something to do with it. Don’t get me wrong, I could go on a run without breaking a sweat, no problems for ten of the twelve months of the year. It was when it got to the ‘back-to-school’ months, where catching a cold left me in a pathetic heap on the ground like a wheezing, deflated balloon.

Watching Ridley Scott’s The Martian, I wondered how long I could survive some sort of apocalypse or being left behind on a desert island, whether I’d have the intuition to keep surviving. I’d give it my best shot, but I don’t think I’d be ‘lucky’ enough to be stranded in a place as virus-free as Mars.
THE PLOT: Mark Watney, botanist-stroke-astronaut-extraordinaire, is suddenly stranded on Mars and presumed dead, with no corner-shop for another 33.9 million miles. Can he make his way back to Earth? Or is he doomed to die on a planet from hunger, thirst, or the other million things Mars can throw at him?

Wait, wasn't this Matt Damon's role in Interstellar?

The film starts off quickly. Watney and Co. are on Mars, there's a storm, Watney is taken out, the other astronauts vamoose, Watney wakes up abandoned. While this speedy introduction gets us into the juicy content of Watney's survival fast, it skimps out on any character development from the team and Watney. The crew of astronauts aren't seen again for a good twenty minutes, and the numerous clips of their friends and family come off as cheap shots at the audience’s heart-strings.

What character development the crew lacks, however, is very much filled by the one who got left behind. It’s heartbreaking to see optimistic, instantly likable Watney running into some tricky obstacles: who knew growing crops could be so hard?

We see his plight through the numerous cameras and Go-Pros dotted around the Mars base. Seriously, it's like Jessops up there. His face-to-face logs keep reminding us of his impressive positivity against the impossible. Damon’s incredible performance makes Watney not some toughened, grizzly warrior, but a witty, average Joe who was caught disastrously off-guard.

The setting was amazingly realistic. There was no doubt in my mind that Watney was on the desolate Mars. The grandeur of towering rocky mountains and vast deserts adds to the feeling of Watney's loneliness.

Alas, Mars’ beautiful yet dangerous background cannot cover the realism of the science. Obviously, I’m no scientist (I flunked A-Level Chemistry) but the physics seemed to really really push the boundary of realism. Top tip: duct-tape fixes everything from space-suits to massive holes in your Martian base.

What is extremely telling about the film was not just Watney's situation, but the situation that the NASA staff were thrown into too. Continual problems like PR and need-to-know information, communication with Watney, and constant obstacles on how to get Watney home haunt the NASA team. What I liked was that there was no 'bad guy' in the film. All the decisions that seemed ‘evil’ were rational and necessary.

This ties in brilliantly to the idea of Watney’s humanity. Seeing people from across the world unite with ideas to bring Watney back, or even just watching everyone on Earth praying for Watney’s safe return made me feel proud that I was born on this blue rock that’s hurtling through unknown space with perilous dangers ahead.

So to sum up? The Martian gives a very human performance, with stars like Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor not trumping each other with Oscar-winning acting, but collaboratively painting a picture of the most isolated man ever with the biggest search-and-rescue team there is.

VERDICT: 8/10 - Potato farming never got as exciting as this.


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