The Martian opens on 10/2/15
Would I be a killjoy if I said, “Huh?” in response to all the online and print media discussions on how realistic and how scientific the upcoming Ridley Scott film The Martian is going to be?
An L.A. Times headline this week sums up the taken-in camp’s absurd position on the subject. It reads, “Why NASA scientists are excited about [the] Matt Damon Film” The Martian.
The article, written by Paresh Dave, explains that author Andy Weir “spent countless hours digging through Google to perfect technical details in what became a popular 2012 e-book about an astronaut stranded on Mars.”
After that, let’s take a look at director Ridley Scott’s scientific background, which includes, as we all know, a terrifically tense horror film, Alien (1979) in which we learn that aliens start out as embryonic leeches before they punch their way to freedom through a host’s chest cavity and that bioengineered replicants (in the film Blade Runner) know how to exploit loopholes in our immigration system. Of course, you don’t have to be a bioengineered replicant to do that, but, apparently, it doesn’t hurt, either.
So, we have an author with a Masters in Science from Google U. and a director who is actually a master of theatrical detail, including technological detail (or at least it sounds pretty cool). What do we do with that?
It turns out at least one real scientist at NASA is happy to know that someone in the arts is taking this Martian vacation idea seriously, because NASA is planning a trip to the red planet in about 2030 or so. So, maybe this movie will whip up some necessary enthusiasm (because going to Mars will certainly require a group effort.) It would be nice, for example, if the astronauts who make the first trip to Mars had some quality restaurants to go to when they finally get there. Maybe far-reaching Elon Musk will see the commercial potential of a crew of astronauts who like duty free shopping the same as the rest of us. A little gift shop would be nice. Pizza, definitely.
But Hollywood, in all seriousness, can do advanced marketing for scientific endeavors and there is nothing wrong with whetting the American appetite for pioneering and discovery by having Matt Damon lead the way. (The release date for the movie is October 2.) NASA director of planetary science Jim Green apparently told the Times that the movie is true to the “science, technology and human cooperation necessary ‘to overcome major challenges’ in space.”
And isn’t that the core purpose of science fiction–: To show human beings maintaining their sense of humanity under what would be, in simple terms, impossible situations? A home cooked meal on Mars with garden-raised veggies would be one of those impossible situations and Matt Damon is just the far flung master chef to pull it off.
But, really, folks, Hollywood and Houston just are not the same town. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a symbiotic relationship. NASA provides Hollywood with great plots from time to time and Hollywood reciprocates by planting seeds and growing dreams. That works for me. And, Mr. Damon, as you try out your first alien-noodle soup: May the force be with you.