The discovery of water on Mars couldn’t have come at a better time if Twenty Century Fox had planned it themselves. On an episode of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central a panel discussion about the discovery had Bill Nye trying to convince the rest of the panel that this is an exciting announcement. He spoke about how water on Mars could mean that there was once life on Mars and we may in fact all be descended from that life. He expressed the value of the space program and all the leaps in technology it’s afforded us. Meanwhile, in the face of Nye’s passion the other two panelists were pretty dismissive of the whole concept, frustratingly so.
Now I understand a point of view that says water on Mars won’t ever directly affect me or my personal bubble of existence so I don’t need to be concerned. I also understand that this was a segment on a show that is about comedy first and things get played for laughs. But this dismissal of the value of science and pushing forward is a very real mentality many people have. It’s especially disturbing when it’s a view point held by those in positions of power. We live in a world where people choose not to vaccinate their children for fear of causing autism when there has been no scientific evidence to support that fear and senators bring a snowball into the senate as evidence that climate change isn’t real.
That’s why seeing The Martian was so refreshing. The movie looks great, Matt Damon is entertaining, Jessica Chastain brings drama, and I’ve yet to see a role I didn’t like Chiwetel Ejiofor in. The visuals are spectacular and I’m 100% into the movie from beginning to end. But what I really enjoyed was how this movie absolutely celebrates science, intelligence, and the optimistic attitude that these pursuits may be difficult, even dangerous, but they are without a doubt worth it. Scientific pursuits and the exploration of our universe are important. There is value in the stars.
The movie’s premise is fairly simple. After an exciting opening scene astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars with enough supplies to last him mere weeks under normal conditions. He must somehow use what he has on hand to survive long enough for NASA to send rescue. Meanwhile NASA scrambles to figure out exactly how that rescue is going to be done. There is no conspiratorial bureaucrat trying to sabotage the rescue attempts. There is no unnecessary melodrama. There is simply the problem at hand and working through it. As new problems arise and the situation changes, everyone adjusts with it using their wits and expertise for one singular goal.
And there is no magic answer in the end. There is no macguffin that solves everything once attained. There is no deus ex machina. Everything that gets accomplished is done so through critical thinking, problem solving, ingenuity, hope in the face of adversity and…and…SCIENCE! The movie places value and import on being scientifically literate by letting it shine front and center and win the day. And to top it all off there is a theme of unity toward the end as unlikely allies work together to save Watney. It’s only a small leap to think that perhaps space exploration itself could bring people together for a common goal, a shared purpose. After all, once we go out into space aren’t we all lumped together simply as humans?
The Martian is a great film for lovers of science. It’s smart, exciting, funny and optimistic. I hope though that even if you’re not a big ol’ nerd you’ll give it a watch. It may give you an appreciation for what science can really mean for you, for everyone. It may even inspire young people to grow up and be the first actual people on Mars. Let’s hope they have an easier time of it than Matt Damon did though.
Only problem, the gravity on Mars seemed AWFULLY Earth-like. You would be lighter on Mars. Maybe he had rocks in his pack? Yeah, We’ll go with that. Rocks.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Disco Godfather – A former cop, now owner of a disco, takes justice into his own funky hands to “attack the whack” and rid his neighborhood of PCP dealers. Yes, really. It’s kind of hilarious to watch the low budget grindhouse feel that Tarantino will later emulate.
Detention – Music video director Joseph Kahn directs this horror comedy that features text flying across the screen, self aware pop references, ADD style editing that refuses to focus on any one bizarre plotline for too long, and a time traveling bear. It’s crazy, kinetic, and feels like a drug induced hallucination.
Torque – Also directed by Joseph Kahn, this is The Fast & the Furious with motorcycles. The filmmakers are fully aware of that since they poke fun directly at those movies. Ridiculous but kinda fun vehicular action.
Maggie – Arnold Schwarzenegger is father to Abigail Breslin who is infected with the “necroambulist virus” and over the course of a couple of weeks turning into a zombie. An extended metaphor for a family coping with a terminal disease, everyone’s performance is…fine? I guess? Think of the awful emotional situations of the The Walking Dead with none of the action. Predictable and a bit dull, the only stand out part of this movie is the progressing zombie makeup on Breslin.
Insurgent – The second movie in a YA series that wishes it were The Hunger Games. Or even The Maze Runner. I never was engaged enough to care much about the characters or the predictable plot turns, especially when a large part of the third act takes place in simulation where the stakes feel even lower. It all feels like it’s just trying too hard to use the tropes of the genre and falling short. (Note: Only a statement on the movies in these series as I haven’t read any of the books.)
Natural Born Killers – The movie that Quentin Tarantino wrote and has more or less disowned once Oliver Stone directed it, this film treads awfully close to “artistic douchebaggery.” The whole thing comes across as a violent cartoon, and that’s the point, but it’s a little hard to get into until the second half when the prison setting gives the movie a little more structure and Robert Downey Jr. is crazy and slimy.