Life on Mars

Despite suffering from some kind of international lurgy (I cannot blame it on any particular country having just been at a meeting where there were people from all corners of the globe), we managed to stagger to the cinema last night – well, we had booked the tickets a few weeks before as the wonderful Odyssey cinema with its comfy chairs and ‘event’ atmosphere somewhat demands that. So even though I did not really feel like it, wasting tickets is not my thing, and after all it was just around the corner.

We were going to see The Martian, with a mixture of hope based on good reviews and a bit of trepidation in that Ridley Scott’s directorial output really does range from the sublime to the ridiculous and while they always look great the substance can be a bit more on the dodgy side. Also I remember my childhood memories of the 1964 Robinson Crusoe on Mars (anyone else remember that?) and wondered how original this really was. As I should have known it is a very different movie but I’m not intending to spoil it for anyone so forgive generalities.

Well, it certainly looked great. Part way into the movie I was perfectly able to suspend disbelief that they had not in fact, shot a lot of the movie on Mars. But I had expected that so no surprises. But did it live up to expectations in other areas? Well for me, mostly it did.

I’ll get my moans over early. I found the soundtrack, while it provided some good gags, was ill judged in places and undercut the drama just that little bit too much, leaving me in less doubt of the outcome then I otherwise might have had. There have been comparisons with the funky retro soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy, but in that case it is more (1) firmly linked to the lead character as a plot point and (2) Guardians has a talking, gun toting raccoon in it. Slightly different overall feel to both movies, I think.

Secondly, by nature of the story and its progression there is an awful lot of Basil Exposition but only a few times is it jarring – and to be fair, characters are often explaining what’s going on to each other in a way that might have been necessary, as often they are specialists in their own area. But there is a surprising amount of talk for a movie where half of it is basically a man on his own trying to survive.

But apart from that, it’s a clever, funny and affirming movie. Two aspects particularly made me cheer.

One, I cannot talk about as it would be a plot spoiler. But at one point something makes and appearance – and becomes fundamental to the plot – that was an air punch moment that was just lovely for anyone who has followed the real Mars programme.

The other was, as noted, the attitude. This is a movie for anyone who is a scientist, specialist, or believes we can do pretty much anything with the right attitude. I’ve seen it before in the business world, with the rejection of something being impossible and rather seeing it as a set of smaller problems, with ‘what needs to be true if we can make this worse’. In this case you deal with the immediate, smaller problem first and move towards the bigger resolution in baby steps. Time and again, different characters in different situations are creative and constructive to try and resolve the issues they are facing, and able to change plans to respond to unexpected circumstances.

It is hard not to like such a positive movie (there are no bad people in this movie – everyone is doing what they think is best, even if you don’t agree with them) and one that I suspect will inspire younger viewers towards science and technology while reminding them that it is also a lot to do with heart. One caution for my friends with children – I think BBFC have got it spot on as a 12A… Considering the situation and the way this story should be lead to a need for some more adult visuals/dialogue.

But generally I felt the balance was close to being spot on and would encourage younger teens certainly to see this and start dreaming of what they can achieve.