Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review of 'The Martian'

A nicely shot science fiction film, with the Jordanian desert looking much like I'd imagine Mars to look. But a bit plodding and over-long, and lacking some of the best bits of the book. The latter was really about the science and engineering - a Robinson Crusoe for the modern age, which went into lots of detail about how the hero uses his scientific knowledge to solve practical problems that might kill him. In the film we know that he is using some science, and lots of techie stuff, but we don't see him working hard at it - just doing physical stuff. We know he's brave, but we don't see that he is also clever and knowledgeable. That's a shame, because one of the merits of the book is that it makes clever, science-knowing people cool. In the film, it's just the usual physical skill and bravery that's cool.

The film also depicts the workings of the NASA bureaucracy, and management and PR structures - which the task of rescuing the man stuck on Mars ultimately subverts. In films we are used to seeing people bravely cut through red tape to get things done, so the feeling that something special is happening is not nearly as strong. Strange though it may sound, the book has more emotional and character depth than the film - and the book was not strong on that sort of thing.

Apart from the relentless cheer leading for NASA and space programmes generally I counted two bits of product placement - the use of Cisco video-conferencing equipment, with the Cisco logo prominent in the top right corner of the screen, and - more subtly - the fact that the door monitoring systems in the HAB and the spacecraft have exactly the same UI as the Google NEST home thermostat.

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