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The Martian is a fine addition to the body of Space Movies that I’ve been reviewing recently, if perhaps made somewhat predictable by having watched Apollo 13 two weeks ago.

The Martian starts with accidental abandonment of botanist Mark Watney on Mars. Going into the film I was worried about how this core premise would be justified without presenting the other characters as incompetent or negligent of their teammates’ safety. This turns out to be well handled, whilst still being an emotional driver for the later actions of the crew of the Hermes.

Watney is a deadpan snarker who uses humour in the recorded logs to deal with the isolation and danger.  Matt Damon does a superb job of playing Watney, and delivers some great lines to whatever camera is recording his efforts at the moment.

The remainder of the cast, including the ground control teams at NASA and Watney’s teammates on the Hermes are also solid, but this really is Matt Damon’s show.

The Martian looks and sounds fabulous, if not quite as convincing as Apollo 13[1], and ultimately Apollo 13 is the biggest problem looming over The Martian.

Structurally these films are very similar: a disaster happens, and then the survivor(s) have to work through the resulting problems one by one until they get home safely. Much of the work is done back on Earth by support teams, as in Apollo 13, and many of the solutions involve horrid kitbashed kludges, as in Apollo 13.

As a result, several of the plot points were predictable well before they happened. I may have guessed the wrong probe for Watney to recover as part of restoring communications, but that he would go looking for one was both obvious and overly delayed. Ditto for the resupply mission failure[2], and also for the slingshot manoeuvre for the Hermes.

To be honest though, I suspect that this would have been much less of an issue if I hadn’t seen Apollo 13 two weeks ago[3]. Setting that aside, The Martian is a strong film, most of the events seem to be reasonably well justified, and the science is mostly solid throughout.

Overall The Martian is a good Space Movie, not a great one, but still recommended[4].

[1] Largely due to the heavier reliance on CGI in The Martian to create the Marian landscapes etc. The effects are good, but still not as good as the real footage that underpinned Apollo 13.

[2] Because rockets always blow up in Space Movies at least once, and usually several times. It’s expected. Cf: The Right Stuff and October Sky.

[3] It does raise questions as to how my current focus on the genre will affect how I see Space Cowboys or Gravity when I get round to them in coming weeks.

[4] It might also improve on repeat viewings, and I’d be willing to give it that chance.