Now, let me be clear: I deliberately did not want to be affected by the articles on the web with titles like "Just how accurate is the science in The Martian?"; so I didn't look at them, til now. Nor did I read any reviews: I just saw from Rottentomatoes and Metacritic that it had been generally well received. So I didn't really go into it with any particular expectation as to why it was meant to be good.
And my verdict: a mediocre, surprisingly scientifically inaccurate, film.
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER ALERT
Look, I had my doubts about the strength of the dust storm at the start of the film, being aware that the atmosphere is incredibly thin, even though there are big, planet covering, dust storms from time to time.
But, yeah, turns out that this, a key element of the plot, is ludicrously overblown. (Pun alert too.) Here's long time Mar mission enthusiast Robert Zubrin's comment:
This is the only thing I noticed that was completely impossible, as opposed to improbable or sub-optimal. The Martian atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, so a Mars wind of 100mph, which is possible although quite rare on the surface, would only have the same dynamic force as a 10mph wind on Earth. You could fly a kite in it, but it wouldn’t knock you down.OK, but this was just a hunch on my part while watching the film.
No, the bit where the movie lost me on the science cred front was the ridiculous size of the main
Come on Hollywood: movies that are trying to be realistic about planetary missions need to be so about the scale of spaceships likely within the next 50 years. It perhaps wasn't as bad as the enormous spaceship out to re-light the sun (or whatever it was doing) in that horrible Sunshine movie, but that one wasn't really going for accuracy in the way The Martian was.
So why make living quarters with enormous, Star Wars battlecruiser-like windows? It made the Jupiter bound spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey look hokey in comparison. The movie never recovered for me after that.
And as for silly physics: how have science types watching not have been upset by the "use the air in my spacesuit as a rocket" tactic at what is meant to be the dramatic climax of the film? This was worse than anything in Gravity, if you ask me: far worse.
OK - so you get the message that the film lost me on the scientific plausibility front.
But it didn't grab me on the psychological front, either. I don't really care for Matt Damon as an actor, but I would have thought the story should spend some time on the psychological strain of isolation on his character. Instead, he's just relentlessly upbeat, pretty much.
In fact, people left in isolation often have hallucinations of someone (or something) unseen being present with them. You would have thought there should be some incident of creepiness in the film, even if only in a scary dream sequence in which his fears are displayed. But nope. The film is too damn cheery to be effective.
I can understand why NASA scientists may like the film, for showing the organisation as comprising caring, "can-do" type people. And the habitat on Mars setting looked pretty realistic.
But overall, it's not a great or memorable film.
Update: I've been reading up on Reddit some very nerd-centric comments about the film. (They are mostly ecstatic about it, incidentally.) But here are a few updates to my commentary in light of that:
* yes, I should have mentioned last night the use of an explosion on the Hermes to get its speed close enough to that of the just-launched Matt Damon. Improbable, especially when the bomb is rigged up in (I think) about 30 minutes, but I'm not sure if it was in the book or not. Certainly, the "Ironman" sequence is not: it's apparently suggested, and rejected. How un-wise of the film to make it happen.
* the author of the book freely admits that the opening, and critical, sandstorm is artistic licence, in that it could not topple the lander or hurl rocks and metal around. Why use it, then? It would be more impressive to come with a reason to abandon a crew member that was actually possible.
* a more minor but related point: after Damon rigs up a plastic cover for the blown airlock, there's one scene where he is inside at night with the sounds of another fierce, pebble hurling, sandstorm outside. Would the plastic really be capable of withstanding that?
* Yes, the explanation of the gravity assist slingshot to get the Hermes back to Mars was really poorly handled in the film. Instead of treating the head of NASA as a dumbo who would never have heard of a gravity slingshot before, why not have it shown by him explaining to the a dumbo media person how it would work?
* a very detailed and informed look at the trajectories used in the book and film are at this link. Apparently, the book is based on a 2035 mission, making the size and sophistication of the Hermes spacecraft in the movie even more ridiculous! And as someone in comments following it says:
However, forgiving all of those previous errors, the ones that I find utterly unforgivable are in the climax (spoilers!) where Watley is shot into space to rendezvous with the Hermes (slowed down by a jury-rigged explosion!???, oh please!!!) in a stripped down capsule with no windows and ultimately no steerable spacecraft, then using a self-made hole in the glove of his spacesuit to propel himself towards the awaiting MMU of his rescuers! Rendezvous is very, very, very, very, very, very difficult! It's not just hard, it's really, really, really hard. The relative velocities, the trajectories, the math! You don't just point two guns at each other and pull the triggers! Hollywood has a penchant for such shenanigans (Gravity, Mission to Mars, now The Martian).
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the movie, but the rescue process in the 2nd half nearly ruined it. Just once, I'd like to see a scifi movie where they get the science right all the way through!Quite right, although I didn't exactly enjoy the movie the way that person did...
Update 2: I can't stop thinking of things in the movie that didn't quite make sense. Here's another: Watney is a botanist? Why take a botanist to Mars? There's no sign of a plant anywhere on the spaceship or habitat. Apparently, in the book he is an engineer (although perhaps also a botanist?) In any event, noting him as having engineering qualifications of some sort in the movie would have helped understand his abilities at constructing stuff.