Seldom have I been so put off by a movie that has been so well received. But it happened with The Martian. Here’s why: (SPOILERS AHEAD)
Bleeding Red, White & Blue
Apart from stock-footage scenes of Houston (NASA headquarters) bursting into applause and American-flag mobs at Times Square, the movie is a total celebration of the reckless American sentiment of Bringing Heroes Home.
But at what cost? Even in sci-fi, it seems preposterous that NASA would endanger the lives of five astronauts for one. And not one of those astronauts protests about adding 500 extra days to their space travel.
Humanise the protagonist, maybe?
I believe a great piece of science fiction is one that has human emotion at its core. In Gravity, it’s the tragedy of Ryan Stone’s deceased daughter; in Interstellar, it’s the heart-breaking fact that a daughter is ageing faster than her father, and the question of whether they will meet again. No effort is made to build a character in The Martian. I don’t know anything about Mark Watney, except his first name is Mark, and his last name is Watney.
A hypothetical (but not completely implausible) conversation between director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard:
Scott: Do you think we should maybe tone down the science stuff, or explain a little more in layman terms?
Goddard: Yaar, log Wikipedia pe padh lenge na, chill.
Scott: What if they don’t? What if they assume we will be clearer?
Goddard: Still, nobody’s gonna accept that they didn’t understand things. We live in a world of over-compensating insecure Twitter “nerds”, bro!
Scott: Point taken.
When you haven’t built a character and when there is no sense of urgency in the film whatsoever, lines like “I’m going to science the shit out of this,” and “I’m a space pirate” tend to get on your nerves. I literally wanted to reach into his spacesuit and pull the plug on him, and then say, “ab ban ke dikha pirate”.
No, literally. Duct tape saves the Martian’s life an astounding number of times. Broken space suit? Duct tape it. The door to your hub broke? Duct tape it. I’m surprised he didn’t try to build a ropeway to Earth out of duct tape.
Should I be worried? Or mildly amused?
Mankind on reel has suffered worse. We’ve been stuck in space, we’ve gone through wormholes, we’ve fought aliens, and we’ve defeated dinosaurs. Where’s the danger in a plot about a man stuck in an environment-controlled hub with a rescue mission on its way?
The biggest achievement of a sci-fi movie shouldn’t be that the science checks out. Yes, farming on Mars seems interesting, but for the ever-advancing sci-fi genre, The Martian feels like small potatoes.
From HT Brunch, October 18
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