Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Idiots Guide To The Martian ...

White Rocks on Mars - courtesty of APOD

I'm a geek when it comes to space movies, I just can't get enough of them.  I was salivating for months before the release of Interstellar and whilst I wasn't disappointed, it did go on too long and lost me in many parts, which I found a bit frustrating. It kinda made me feel like I was missing something, like there was some fundamental truth that they were telling me that I couldn't grasp. 

Then along comes Matt Damon and the little Red planet movie.

I was very nervous about this one - considering it's made by Ridley Scott, who we all know can get a bit carried away with aliens (my in-joke).   I'd read basically nothing about it, other than it was filmed in parts of Jordan and Hungary (interior shots) and it starred Mat Damon and was based on the book by Andy Weir.   I really didn't  want to know anything about it pre-production or whilst it was being promoted, in case I got my hopes up and was horrifyingly disappointed - like I was with the boring yawn of Solaris and the irritating Gravity.  
I have a tiny bit  ... well let's say that again, I have a nano-smidgeon of knowledge about things that can be classified as astronomical.   I had high hopes that this film could perhaps contain more space FACT than space FICTION.     I wasn't let down on that. 

The premise for Weir's book (for anyone who hasn't seen the movie or read the book, don't scroll down any further) is that the astronaut (played by Damon) gets stranded on Mars after a violent dust storm separates him from the rest of his crew.   So apart from the obvious - i.e. people on Mars, the space ship, the gear - could  a dust storm of that force create the havoc that's depicted in the book and the film?
According to the scientists, no.  Simply put, the atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars is too low and would not support violent dust storms - although there are loads of dust devils, you only have to look at the Spirit rover footage to know that first hand.

So from the outset, the credibilty is stacked somewhat in favour of the director/writer but that's where suspension of belief makes for a really meaty and interesting movie - let's face it, it doesn't start off all bollox.

The spacecraft, Hermes, is so gorgeous I had to keep pinching myself.  The crew are all fairly intelligent looking types, things are all looking pretty nice, tension mounts, our Matt is lying face down in the Martian dust. Alone and abandoned, everyone in the Universe thinks he's dead.   That sense of total aloneness is brought home a few times in the movie. There's one scene later on, where Damon is sitting on a pile of rocks looking out across the Martian vista, what a fantastic image that was!  Oh here it is:

Damon goes all Irish on us and starts growing his own potatoes, using Martian (sterile) soil and his own (and the crews') vacuum-packed poop.  Yes folks, this is entirely plausible. It's really interesting how he gets all that done, how hard he works and what not.  Then there's that Mars Rover - which has an individual atmosphere complete with CO2 filters and airlock. The vehicle has a 9,000 Wh battery, reaches a top speed of 25kph and can withstand even the strongest Martian storms ...

Oh please can I have one, dad?

 Stuff that's as near as dammit right:
  • Growing potatoes
  • Orbital space time travel between Earth and Mars
  • Mars Habitat
  • Them sexy space suits
  • The gear
  • That lovely Rover
Oh and the Hermes spacecraft is fiction but the science behind it isn't.
The only part of the movie where I kinda raised my eyebrows and started sighing a lot was when the good old US of A space agencies had to ask China for some help with the rescue mission. It didn't ring true and more like Biggles than anything rooted in reality. It was the only blot on an otherwise excellent space exploration movie.  

Matt Damon was very good in the role (he's in danger of becoming type-cast) - it was a neat bit of dialogue him turning himself into a Martian pirate.  I loved the movie, I loved the feel of it, the rich texture of the scientific stuff, the panorama, the sense of impending radiation sickness and the feeling of intense isolation and wonderment that this kind of mission would bring to a person.  Thumbs up. 

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