Didn't We Already Save Matt Damon?

Movie: The Martian
Year: 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig

Another Ridley Scott movie? Yeah, I like his work.

I was excited to see this after reading the fantastic book by Andy Weir. And, above all, I was hoping that they could do the book justice.

They did.

Over the years, I've seen movie after movie that unfold on Mars and I've seen all manner of awfulness on the screen.

This movie didn't have that. There were no big round Martian moons (because Mars' moons are neither big nor round), no bulgy eyes due to decompression (I'm looking at you, Arnold) and no freezing solid (Tim Robbins, we need to talk).

But it's not a flawless movie and the scientist that lives in my brain* kept kicking the back of my chair. So this is to acknowledge what he was telling me.

The Flaws

One of them is a major plot hole. The whole reason that Mark Watney winds up stranded is that there is a Martian windstorm that threatens to topple their ride home. He gets lost in the dust and is presumed dead when everyone else leaves.

I know enough about Mars to know that windstorms on the red planet aren't local phenomena. If the wind was strong enough to cause their main craft to fall over, it was strong enough to cause the one he spends all that time driving to to also fall over.

But I also know enough about Mars to know that the wind, despite its speed, isn't the major threat that Weir would have us think it is.

Martian winds can blow as fast as 400 mph (640 kph). But the air density on Mars is so low that anything with appreciable mass won't be affected much more than a similar object on Earth would be affected by a 25 mph (40 kph) wind. That's not knocking over your spacecraft.**

When Watney's habitat blows open, he patches it with something that looks very much like a plastic tarp and duct tape with some come-along bands for good measure.

According to the IMDB, Matt Damon is 5' 10" tall. He's standing at full height in a spacesuit that's going to add at least a couple inches of height. But for the sake of argument, let's assume the hole left by the blowout is 72" in diameter (36" in radius). Using the formula for the area of a circle, he's patching an area of just over 4000 square inches. On screen, they show the temperature (in metric Celsius degrees) and the pressure (in SAE pounds per square inch). The latter is shown to be 13 psi when he brings the habitat back up to pressure.  That sheet of plastic is holding nearly 53,000 pounds of pressure. That's the equivalent of 17 full sized pickup trucks.

Later, when the wind is blowing, we see that sheet of plastic bow inward against that pressure.

Yes, I know these are nitpicks. But that scientist is persistent.

Why These Flaws Don't Matter

Matt Damon's portrayal of Mark Watney is spot on. He handled the situation in a matter-of-fact, get busy living or get busy dying manner that made me want him to win. His solutions to problems were ingenious, even when they didn't work.

Did you notice the ear ringing sound when he blows up his water generator (and his eyebrows)?

One of the smaller roles, Donald Glover as engineer Rich Purnell, is really an underrated performance. His ability is only outweighed by his enthusiasm. I know people in science and engineering who get this level of excitement when they solve a problem.

Finally, the scenery when Watney is working his way across Mars is breathtaking. It's how I want Mars to look in a movie. At no point did I find myself thinking that this was Death Valley filmed through a red filter. It had a real sense of the place. Even small details like the dust devils winding their way across endless dune fields made it feel more genuine. When they did show the moons, they were tiny things moving across the Martian sky.

I want to go to this Mars.

And I want Mark Watney there to make sure I make it back home.

*The scientist in my brain lives there full time. My degree is in physics with an emphasis on planetary astronomy. Mars is a particular field of interest.
**I had a very nice chat with Andy Weir online and brought this up. He told me that he knew this but he had to find some way to tell the story.


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