Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Martian

I saw The Martian Monday night.  Yes, you should be jealous*, it was a very good movie!  Don’t worry – No spoilers here…

If you haven’t been living on Mars, then you may know this movie is about a NASA astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and has to survive until he can be rescued.  The movie has lots of drama, at least one compelling, well-developed character (our hero, Mark Watney) and some very, very credible science and engineering.  While it isn’t perfect (let’s talk about those dust storms!), the creators did a superior job getting the technical side of the story to be accurate and believable.
I’ve been asked how it compares to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In truth, I can’t directly compare the two movies and here’s why: I am a movie snob.

I can no more compare 2001 with The Martian than I can compare it with Star Wars or Plan Nine from Outer Space.  These three science fiction movies have different inherent value, difference target audiences, and, well, different artistry.  That’s why I have a 3-tier categorization for movies that allows me to better do comparisons:

A film is entertaining, well written and directed, and has some sort of artistic merit in the way it is produced and filmed that goes beyond its entertainment value.  A film has enduring qualities that stick with viewers for a lifetime, often impacting them in ways they never imagined before viewing them.  Examples include Casablanca, Citizen Cane, Blade Runner, and, yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

These are also entertaining, well written and directed, but they are developed primarily for entertainment.  A good movie is something you go see on a Saturday night and talk about the next week with your friends at school or work.  You might even go see it again – just for fun.  But it doesn’t necessarily have any profound messages you are intended to carry with you and the filmography isn’t multi-dimensional.   Star Wars is in this category, as are The Terminator, Alien, Aliens and ET.

These are the low budget side of Hollywood.  They can be entertaining, but they certainly aren’t necessarily well written and directed – and therein lies their charm.  Scenes may be well acted, but the background is obviously shot on a soundstage or in the Producer’s home.   I include Dark Star, The Silent Earth and Journey to the Far Side of the Sun in this category.

In each category you can have movies that are “Excellent,” “Average” or “Poor.”  Blade Runner was an excellent science fiction film; The Terminator an excellent science fiction movie and The Silent Earth an excellent science fiction flick.  If someone asks me which is the best of the three, I cannot easily answer – they were each excellent in their own way, for their own intended audience and in how they were made.  But asking me answer that question is like asking me if a filet mignon is better than Crème brûlée, if London is better than Rome, or, well, you get the idea.

Now, about The Martian.  It is an excellent movie.  You should go see it expecting to be entertained, carried away to another planet and inspired by what a person placed in a life or death situation can achieve.  But don’t go see it expecting a revelation or having it spur weeks, months or even years of debate about what the director meant to convey in the scene where the spacecraft takes off from Mars or why the hero’s spacesuit had the orange patch on his right shoulder and not his left.  It’s not that kind of movie.  And thank goodness it’s not.  Sometimes an awesome night of entertainment is exactly what one needs…

* A note about jealousy.  I am extremely jealous of Andy Weir.  He wrote a great Mars book which was turned into a great Mars movie.  Why am I jealous?  Because I wrote my own Mars book, Rescue Mode, (with NYT Bestselling author Ben Bova) which came out in hardcover last summer and will be released in paperback on September 29, 2015.  My book hasn't yet been made into a movie -- or a film -- or even a flick.  But if you are a movie producer, get your people to call my people and we'll do lunch... 

About me:

I'm is a physicist, a husband and father, a science fiction author for Baen books from whom my latest novel, Rescue Mode, is to be released in paperback September 29.  You may learn more about me, my work and my writing by visiting my website at www.lesjohnsonauthor.com, on Facebook and on Twitter (@LesAuthor).