How ‘The Martian’ saved the Earthlings: a review

Morgan Smith

My IMDb rating: 9/10

That is the title of a documentary or a research article somebody will make hundreds of years in the future about “The Martian” when the red planet has been colonized by humankind. 

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When we think of what will end the human race, the obvious answers are an asteroid, an alien invasion, the sun turning into a red giant or nuclear weapons. But the most immediate one is depletion of resources.

The population of humans is ever increasing, and fast. Eventually, and much sooner than death by the sun, we will have to move elsewhere, and Mars is the only immediate option. This means space agencies need a whole lot more attention and money. How do we get the public interest? Scare them with doomsday prophecy, or inspire them to be scientists themselves? 

Think back to the great films of American culture. “Jurassic Park” made everyone want to be an archaeologist, or at least learn more about dinosaurs. Movies have tremendous influential power.

I think “The Martian” will be known as one of those movies. Not to mention, its marketing campaign has coincided perfectly with the first up-close pictures of Pluto, and even better, the discovery of sound evidence of water on Mars. 

The Martian Poster
The Martian was released Oct 1. Image courtesy of IMDb.

I think one of the reasons “Interstellar,” which promoted a sort of realism in their depictions (regardless of how crazy its subject matter is) hasn’t been universally accepted is because of its somber and apocalyptic premise. 

“The Martian” isn’t about the fate of the human race. It’s just about one man. And one man is much easier to identify with than 7 billion people. This is what makes “The Martian” work so well. And more importantly, the movie is about how science and engineering is freaking cool. 

I can sincerely tell you right now, if I saw this movie when I was a little kid, there would have been no way I would want to be anything but an astronaut. Especially because we live in a time when kids today will be the first people to land on Mars 20 years from now. There’s never been anything more exciting than that, but everyone still cares about Donald Trump’s hair. 

“The Martian” makes that dream possible and accessible, even if only on the silver screen. It’s lighthearted, funny and charming, and Matt Damon makes botany and engineering look as cool as snow days and video games. 

The story itself recognizes its own influential power and the importance of its message. (Spoiler) At the end, Mark Watney does get back home safe and sound. But we see thousands lined up in Times Square clambering to see the fate of one astronaut, reminiscent of images of families crowding around TV sets to watch the moon landing. Today, rocket launches only make news if they fail. And even then, people don’t care too much. 

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And at the end, Mark Watney is teaching a class of eager students, all incredibly jealous of him, and filled with ambition to explore Mars for themselves. Mark gives an opening speech, then asks for questions. They all raise their hands. These are the kids this film will inspire, and the NASA employees which wouldn’t have existed without the influence of this story. 

Yes, the movie is good and you should see it. But what’s important is that when we look back at our history hundreds of years from now to see how we were able to amass enough support to bring the question of Mars into the public sphere, “The Martian” will definitely make the list. 

Collegian Film Critic Morgan Smith can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @MDSFilms.