If you haven’t seen this one you may want to skip the review. I’m going to give the plot away. It’s a story of great heroism and survival. It’s The Martian, from 2015 and directed by Ridley Scott with Matt Damon in the title role as scientist Mark Watney, the Martian. Of course it’s a science fiction story. It’s distributed by 20th Century Fox. Thanks to Ana for lending me her DVD, from which I derived these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia
The principal action takes place on Mars, and is Mars ever a desolate place. West Texas has nothing to compare. Here we see the Ares III expedition lander on the Mars surface, right before disaster strikes.
It’s a notorious Mars sandstorm, and it’s headed their way. Everybody needs to get back inside, and the lander needs to lift off immediately. Things do not go well, and Watney gets injured and lost in the blinding sand, presumed dead. They take off without him.
Naturally the head of NASA has to announce the sad news to the world, but apparently not to the surviving Ares III crew members. Meanwhile, The sandstorm subsides, and Watney digs himself out of the sand and gets himself back into the Ares III base station.
He repairs his injuries and figures out what just happened. He has no communication with the outside world, so he begins to make a video of his life on Mars. My guess is that later this video gets recovered and much of it used to produce this movie.
Quickly Watney figures how much longer he has left to live on Mars, based on remaining oxygen, water, and food. He begins to work immediately to repair his situation. Hey! He’s a botanist, and he turns an area of the base station into a greenhouse and grows potatoes.
Eventually NASA folks back on Earth notice activity about the Ares III site and figure Watney is still alive. The rest of the story, which I will not detail, involves a long-shot rescue mission. And that produces a passel of spectacular space travel sequences, one of this production’s big draws.
The climax arrives when Watney blasts off in a remnant launch vehicle and executes a rendezvous with the Ares III spacecraft executing a fly-by. Victory strikes when Mission Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) rides to the limit of a tether and snags the free-flying Watney, who has caught the tether in passing.
Everybody goes back to Earth, and nobody dies. Very heartwarming.
Except some basic physics had to die to make this movie. Having studied the subject in college, I immediately noticed the problem in the sequence pictured above. Watney is approaching Lewis at some significant closure rate. They can’t quite grab hold of each other, but Watney snags the tether. Then begins a cosmic dance as the two circle each other with the tether connecting them. Round and round they go. They each pull on the tether until they can embrace in space. High school physics students will immediately ask, “What happened to all that angular momentum we were just looking at?” Yes, readers, significant angular momentum has just evaporated inside a movie production studio, where a lot of science goes to die.
In high school my buddy Patrick and I computed minimum energy transfer orbits for a hobby. There’s nothing complicated about them, and only high school math and physics are required. It would be nice to apply some of those principles to verify the timings employed in this plot. Maybe another post.
There’s more, and I could diagnose until Mars has made a couple more passes around the sun. But this is fiction, even though it sometimes does not make sense, Mark Twain notwithstanding.
This is the second Matt Damon science fiction production I’ve reviewed in recent weeks. For another see Godzilla.
You will enjoy the end titles. The theme shifts to Gloria Gaynor singing I Will Survive. A perfect capper.