Monday, October 5, 2015

The Martian: The Power of Science

I'll be doing a joint review of the just-released motion picture The Martian with Donna Frelick at a later date, but having just seen the movie on Friday, I really wanted to share a few thoughts.

Now, granted, I was almost a guaranteed fan because I enjoyed (and recommended) the novel so much. A lot of people read the book, but probably nowhere close to the millions who will potentially see the movie. The possible reach of the book + movie combined is boggling.

Why do I see that as a VGT? (Very Good Thing.)

I do something when I go to movies. It's something my agent and I discussed in our marketing talks a while back. When I see a Sci-Fi movie, I study the audience. I mentally take note of things like gender and age group. I want to know who this film appeals to, what are the components of its audience.

What did I notice about The Martian?

There was no predominant factor. It appealed to everyone.

The audience was an equal disbursement of male/female and all different age groups. There were retired couples, families, groups of two to five female friends, groups of two to five male friends, late teens, couples and single viewers. Some wore Sci-Fi lore t-shirts, some were conservatively dressed, some were punked, grunged, or geeked out, others wore business attire, having come straight from work on a Friday night.

But the biggest epiphany came from snippets of conversations in the hallway after the movie.

"So cool how he figured out how to create H2O!"

"And that guy who figured out the math of the flight pattern..."

"Yeah. That gravity assist thing was bomb."

" he worked each problem."

" damed smart..."

"...when I can't even keep a cactus alive."

"OMG. That launch scene...could that really work?"

"That was the best freakin' movie I've seen in ages."

The Martian is a stellar story of survival against impossible odds with inspiring visuals and great characters. In a word, just...Wow.

But wait, so was Apollo 13. So what set this film apart and put it in a class of its own? I think it was the convincing way that it showcased the can-do factor of science. How science can be a power of its own right that is way beyond cool.

The Martian aspires to do what few films have managed to do successfully. It employs science as an exciting plot factor. It doesn't drone on needlessly about equations and components and 'how to's, it simply shows what IS possible--what can be achieved--when science is applied.

And what makes it so edge-of-your-seat gripping is the human drama that goes hand-in-hand with that. The horror of being marooned in a hostile environment with minimal oxygen, food, water or heat, and no way to glean any more of these elements from the natural environment. To experience one man's utter thrill of achievement or complete defeat at failure, with stakes so incredibly high and the margins so unforgivably slim. The main character, Mark Watney, wasn't a super hero and didn't wield any magical abilities, he was simply a problem-solver.

How do you create sufficient quantities of water where none exist? Chemistry.

How do you grow food on a planet where nothing grows? Botany.

How do you communicate with Earth when you have no way to generate a signal? Electrical engineering.

How do you generate heat when outside temps can drop to -76 degrees F (-60 C)? Thermonuclear physics.

The Martian drives its points home with every jaw-dropping scene and gasp-worthy plot twist. Science is exciting. Science is discovery. Science is survival.

Or as Mark Watney so effectively proclaims, "I'm going to science the sh*t out of this."

Sometimes entertainment can have a profound impact on our culture and on what we care about. Just as the Star Trek franchise once motivated a generation to seek out new technologies, I hope this film might inspire millions more to appreciate STEM studies and space exploration.

And, of course, being a Sci-Fi Romance writer, I hope it might also inspire a whole new fan base to appreciate the treasure that is SFR. As our blog motto states, "Where the imagination goes...the heart follows."

Here are some of the basic facts about the Mars environment from the NASA Quest site.

Are you planning to go see The Martian?

Have a great week.


  1. As usual, I'll wait til the DVD comes out, or maybe it'll be on Netflix. I hate going to the movies, you see. But I'm hangin' out to see this picture. Apollo 13 was a brilliant movie - but this comes across a bit like, "I'll see your (true) crisis and raise you 500%." After all, Apollo 13 was in the early 70's - that's a loooong time ago. I'm sure the reality of Apollo 13 would have influenced the author writing this story.

  2. "I see your (true) crisis and raise you 500%." LOL Greta! It does have that feel. Some of the challenges are different, some the same, but the Apollo 13 We Can Do This! attitude is definitely there. It's just that it's only one solitary, isolated man doing all the problem-solving in the beginning, instead of a team of experts.

    One thing I love about The Martian is that we're looking forward at what could be, instead of looking back at what we've lost, which always depresses me. I think the timing of this movie is perfect. While I enjoyed Interstellar, it had no where near the positive impact and carried a very bleak feel to it. Funny that Matt Damon was in both! He's becoming the new space movie go-to guy.

    I don't normally enjoy movies in the theaters either. There are just too many people who have no regard for others' enjoyment of the movie. Fortunately, we have a new theater in ABQ called Icon Cinema that not only has lovely recliners and free refills on popcorn and drinks, it also has very wide aisles so you aren't constantly jostled by other movie goers moving in and out of their seats. They have an absolute No Tolerance policy for any sort of disruption. If someone disturbs the audience (cell phone ringing, texting, crying baby, whatever) they are escorted out. Really makes for an enjoyable viewing. I haven't been back to another theater in over a year.


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