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‘The Martian’ redefines genre with doses of humor

(from left) Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, and Aksel Hennie portray the crewmembers of the fateful mission to Mars.

You’d be hard pressed to find a person who could say with a straight face that they didn’t like a single aspect of “The Martian”, from comedy to drama to space-adventure.

Based on a novel by Andy Weir (in which the movie keeps true to quite beautifully), director Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” redefines the survivalist movie genre without even trying—in part because of Matt Damon playing a role much like himself. Mark Watney is a smart-mouthed, witty, well-liked astronaut of the Ares 3, the third manned mission to Mars. When a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate, Watney, presumably dead, is left behind on a planet that offers wide horizons and orange skies but no fictional Martians and more importantly, no food or water. As NASA scrambles to keep Watney alive, the astronaut only has his mechanical engineering skills and botany powers to survive the hostile Red Planet.

“The Martian” never veers into the overwhelming existential panicky moments of “Gravity” by keeping a smart balance between the science jargon and the oh-so-relatable wit. It’s funny because these are believable portrayals of NASA astronauts and P.R. people and CEO’s. Their profanity (timed for comedic effect) is very human for people in their positions (they have the responsibility of rescuing a man 140 million miles away). Even though we may not be able to relate to the trials of being stranded on another planet, all of us can relate to Watney’s exasperation of listening to a year’s worth of disco music—the only music the crew left behind.

The cast is key to unlocking “The Martian.” Damon automatically brings likability to his character, shouldering over half the movie on his own without for a single moment making it feel like a chore. The rest of the cast is excellent from brilliant, hardened minds over at NASA to the heart-wrenching portrayals of the young crew who discover they left their very-much-alive comrade behind.

The most exciting thing about “The Martian” is that it is completely within the realm of possibility, fact-checked by NASA over and over again. The film, intelligent and beautifully rendered, will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of astronauts—capable, resourceful, resilient people who are superhero pioneers of the modern day.

“The Martian” arrives in theaters Oct. 2.

 

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