Andy Weir’s novel The Martian knocked me out. Most of the narration is a first-person journal recorded by astronaut Mark Watney, stranded on Mars. It’s brisk and surprisingly funny, and thrillingly puts the science first, instead of soap opera fantasy like most pop entertainment. When I heard Ridley Scott was directing the movie adaptation, I thought he was a brilliant choice; of course, I though Sarah Palin was a great vice-presidential pick by John McCain. Like Palin, Scott quickly shows his weaknesses and doubles down – he’s a visual technician whose images hold little wonder (they’re not awe-inspiring), and he’s not interested in what’s going on in Watney’s head, either.
This is a movie about a man stranded on freaking MARS, the only human on an entire planet, and very likely to die there. For as great as he was with astrophysics, Weir wasn’t inspired by life of the mind, either. That was fine, because the puzzle-box plot kept ripping along. Drew Goddard’s screenplay pauses to explain things every once in a while, but there’s only so much explanation a 2-hour movie can (or should) fit in. The end result is a generic story that could play out in a similar way in any number of settings. Don’t get me wrong – The Martian is entertaining, and star Matt Damon is blandly appealing. I just wish (upon a star) it had a director who gave equal weight to metaphysics.