The most acclaimed films of the recent years have had space as their setting and were about people stranded in space. For a few years we have seen similar scenarios on the screen. The latest link in this chain was The Martian which appeared in cinemas this year and was very popular with audiences, with some input from the NASA. The movie which was adapted to the screen by Ridley Scott from a novel of same name by Andy Weir and featuring Matt Damon was the topic of conversation everywhere during October.Mars itself is a popular issue with the NASA having announced the discovery of saline water on the planet. The movie is related to this subject. A group of astronaut scientists on a mission of discovery on Mars are caught in a storm. Botanist-engineer-astronaut Mark Watney loses contact with the rest of the team which analysing soil structure on the planet. The team abandon the planet, thinking Watney must be dead. Once Watney regains consciousness and the storm is over, he finds himself alone on the entire planet. This is of course a situation impossible to cope with for ordinary people with no knowledge of the circumstances. However, Watney remains calm. He fights a battle of life and death with an alien planet, using all of his NASA training. He first calculates how long he can survive with the available resources and figuring that they will not be enough starts work to grow his own.The only element which prevents the movie turning into an example of the horror-suspense genre at this point is Mark Watney’s take on things. Watney never loses hope. He records his daily activities in a video journal, tries to contact the NASA and refuses to die alone out in space. Cinemagoers will recall three other films at this point. The first is The Moon (2009) directed by Duncan Jones. It tells the story of Sam Bell, who is almost the only character in the script and who has to guard a lunar base. Sam Rockwell delivered a successful performance in this role. Perhaps because of a lunar base not as being a current subject as one on Mars, the movie did not receive the attention it deserved, but it is worth rediscovering for those who liked the story pattern in The Martian. The glaring difference between The Moon and The Martian is that the former treats of the ethical implications of scientific research while the latter has a story that is more industrial in character.
The other two recent movies, Interstellar and Gravity, have gathered much attention. Interstellar had been much debated by the audience with its difficult to follow plot, its half optimistic half pessimistic perspective on the future of humankind and its scientific speculation on parallel universes. Aside from being set in space, Interstellar and The Martian have little in common in terms of plot. If we insist on comparing them, we should touch on their scientific validity. Interstellar is based on the idea of parallel universes, which the cinema loves to explore and which find some theoretical acceptance among scientific authorities. The Martian, on the other hand, contains scenes which will have the average viewer sceptical about their scientific validity. Some questions which spring to mind are whether it is possible to grow potatoes on Mars, whether one can become space bound in a craft held together by cloth and how long the journey between Earth and Mars will take. However, the NASA itself has announced that all of this is possible. The NASA’s support for the movie is easily apparent. It is not difficult to see why; through the power of the cinema in reaching the masses, the NASA gets to present a report of its activities to the world. It will therefore have easier access to funding for its potential missions to Mars. Such simple reasoning must lie behind the movie and its propaganda. Movies which are the screen adaptations of books often face the criticism “the book was better”. On the other hand there is the fact that with adaptations, loyalty to the source does not always make the better film and the better is not necessarily loyal. Of course having read the book makes it easier for the viewer to understand the atmosphere in which the events take place. However, films have a limited running time and the exclusion of scenes which do not serve the plot is a beneficial decision on behalf of the viewer. From this perspective, The Martian makes the right choices. Of course a few scenes which readers have found to be essential to the book are missing from the film. However, this does not confound the plot, on the contrary it allows for the story to be told within a reasonable running time. This increases the pleasure of the viewing.Matt Damon’s acting as the astronaut who tried to survive while awaiting rescue carries the movie. Jessica Chastain appears in a role similar to that she played in Interstellar. At a time in which the number and significance of space exploration projects is increasing, those who want to spend a fun two hours will not be disappointed with The Martian.By Petek Þah

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