(posted Sunday, 4 Oct 2015, on Facebook)
Saw The Martian today (*after* reading and posting Gary Westfahl’s review this morning — and also after reading Andy Weir’s novel a couple months ago) and I think it’s a prime example of a terrific film made from a mediocre book. The book, as I said, was formula suspense: something bad happens every 30 pages that you know our hero will overcome, because he’s the hero and has to survive. This is poor form for a novel, but a standard formula for Hollywood movies, and given the realistic depiction of the space mission and the Martian landscape, and the fine acting by all concerned, it made for riveting, frequently moving film. Kudos for the positive depiction of problem-solving and resolve, in contrast villain-formulas of so many Hollywood pics, even about space travel; for the interesting casting (following from the book) and a bit of character development (not in the book) of a couple key minor players; and for the almost uniformly plausible depictions of the space ships, their movements, the launches, the movements of people in space, and so on — nothing offhand as egregiously wrong as a couple key points in Gravity. (Acknowledging the frequently observed flaw that the thin Martian atmosphere would not whip up the storm that threatened to topple over the launch vehicle in the first place.) The 3D was impressive, though at times made everything look like toy models of landscapes, ships, even people, though I assume everything was filmed live, including the rovers crawling through the deserts of Jordan.
I still don’t find the Hermes’ captain’s obsession with ’70s music at all plausible, for reasons discussed in my review of the novel.
Finally: I appreciate the take in Gary Westfahl’s review that detects the irony between the positive view of NASA’s mission, and the unexamined assumption of the story that the whole point is to get the stranded astronaut *off* Mars. No thought about the challenges of staying, of settling — unlike any number of SF literary works. The film gives a positive spin to this, in the final scenes (not in the novel) that depict the launching of the next mission to Mars. In Gary’s review, and in Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel AURORA, and no doubt other places, there does seems to be a gradual realization within in the SF community that the visions of human colonization of planets and the expansion of humanity into the universe, will be much more difficult than those fictions have imagined… if possible, at all.