We finally streamed Ridley Scott’s The Martian last week. I approached this with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I loved the book. It was a funny, smart nail-biter full of hard science and some truly great characters. Ridley Scott has had some real duds recently, particularly the brain-dead Prometheus (then again, the script for that set new records for stupidity). I wondered if Scott still had the chops to pull this off. The key to the book is not to dumb it down for the reader but to expect that they can keep up. That’s OK for a science fiction book but the movie industry takes a dim view of such things. It’s better to dumb it down and just blow shit up. So despite the glowing reviews, I was cautious.
One thing I was not nervous about was Matt Damon as Mark Watney. In the book, Watney is a terminal smart ass, staying sane through humor and sarcasm. He drops profanity and arcane science terms in equal measure, complaining about the bad taste in music of his erstwhile commanding officer and saying things like “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this”. Damon pulls this off without a problem.
Scott succeeds in part because this movie does not assume that the audience is a pack of brain-dead slack-jawed Trump supporters. Instead it assumes that we will find a bunch of geeks trying to come up with solutions to catastrophe after catastrophe a compelling drama. In fact, this might be the first film since Apollo Thirteen to portray scientists in such a good light. It assumes that when you hear the line “Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely–eyed missile man.” you’re going to say fuck yeah. Hollywood rarely has that kind of trust in its audience. It’s better to just blow shit up.
The other thing about this is the film’s implicit trust in humanity. This proposes that if we stranded a guy on another planet that we would drop our differences and just fight to bring the guy home. It’s hard to imagine such a thing in these days of disasters and demagogues. We should imagine it more often.
So by all means, if you haven’t watched this yet, take it out into orbit. Stream it, buy it, download it just make sure Hollywood gets the message that a science fiction film made with smarts AND heart can be superior to just…you know, blowing shit up.