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WHAT'S NEW AT THE MOVIES?
A mass appeal movie that proclaims it’s going to ‘science the shit out of this’? Go figure: this genuinely thrilling sci-fi thriller about smart people is also sensational entertainment.
Ridley Scott’s savvy spin on the best selling novel begins as a team of astronauts high tail it off of Mars, escaping an impending dust storm. One of their own has been killed in the evacuation and the long ride home is sad and sober. What they don’t know is that the man they left behind, their friend, is actually very much alive.
Yes, there’s tons of science needed to, first, keep Mark Watney alive and then, to get somebody back up there to bring him home. The process ranges from establishing interplanetary contact language to growing potatoes out of stored excrement. That’s not the only sciencing of the shit, though. There’s also the psychological challenge, the one that keeps Watney going, the tireless NASA folk inspired and us, the audience, compelled and cheering for them, perched on the edge of our seats. Happy to say, Scott and his movie making team meet that challenge and, despite just a few minor missteps, make it seem almost effortless.
The look of the thing is terrific: rarely has an outer space epic felt so real. And the nifty almost casually international cast is a delight; yes, there are white players, Jessica Chastain leading the pack, but heroes are also played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, and Donald Glover. Because, it feels, why not reflect a real world cross cultural attitude that often seems ham-fisted in contemporary film?
But, along with an improbable and hilarious soundtrack, the most irresistible force in this movie is its very human star. Yes, Matt Damon is charming. And good company. But Damon so subtly draws us in to Watney’s world, I was surprised to find myself tearing up as he and I both pondered his fate.
It’s no easy task to make a big, commercial movie, especially a science fiction one, without pandering or preaching. Scott’s delivered one that’s too much fun on too many levels to miss.