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The Martian: Slightly Flawed, but Still Beautiful

posted Apr 3, 2016, 1:22 PM by Jeffrey Wolf

By: Korey Alder, Photography Editor

Posted February 8th, 2016

Spoiler Alert! You Have been warned!

The Martian is a detailed but suspenseful film about lonely life on another world, and the dangers that colonization of space presents us with. It would seem that space-survival has become a movie genre in itself, with pictures like Gravity and Interstellar depicting a more lifelike (albeit by no means realistic) view of space travel than traditional science fiction. The Martian certainly fits this relatively new category.

The premise of the movie is simple: an astronaut by the name of Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is trapped on Mars after being almost killed in a sudden dust storm. His colleagues must abandon him or die themselves, so they begin their trip home to Earth, believing Watney to be dead. By some miracle, Watney survives, however. He has to find a way to get home with limited equipment and no way to communicate, and the majority of the film tracks his attempts to survive in the desolate environment on Mars.

The film itself was a work of art. With excellent camerawork and skillful integration of the computer generated environment with the real-world sets, it was difficult to tell what was real and what wasn't. There were no shots that felt obviously chroma-keyed, and this always helps to draw one into the story. The futuristic technology used by the characters was also reasonable. The habitat in which Watney survived, as well as the vehicle he used to move about, were both accurate representations of technology NASA has considered using on a future mission to Mars. Another example of real-life equipment used in The Martian is the plutonium reactor that Watney recovers to power his rover. Called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, this device is used on a variety of NASA spacecraft to generate power, particularly in places where solar panels are not viable.

These and other small details certainly helped the movie's immersion, but the film falls short of being realistic for a number of reasons. Throughout the entire picture, there seemed to be an obsession with depressurizing environments. Watney's habitat depressurized, killing his home-grown food supply, and nearly depressurizing his suit in the process. The Hermes purposefully depressurized a module, with explosives, in order to reduce delta-V – a maneuver which would have be catastrophic anywhere but Hollywood. And then there is Watney's Iron-man style flight across hundreds of meters of space, all thanks to a self-inflicted tear in his space suit – on only one hand. Somehow, everyone comes through these extremely violent events unscathed.

Other minor inaccuracies serve to harm the realistic effect built up during the rest of the film as well. This isn't a deal-breaker, however; The Martian is still an excellent science-fiction story. I can't admit to having read the novel version, so I'm not qualified to make a comparison there, but I suspect most everyone will find this an intriguing and entertaining movie.