Lost in Space.

Space is portrayed one of two ways in film. The first is a boundless frontier brimming with magic and adventure…a playground of new worlds just waiting to be explored. The second is a harsh, desolate void…a vast emptiness waiting to suck you in and never let go. Space is romanticized or vilified, depending on the needs of the film. Impressively, this film does both.

Ridley Scott gives us yet another Sci-Fi adventure…and it turns out to be one of his more lighthearted works. As this film blends the best and worst of space, it also blends humor and drama much the same way, which results in a well-rounded space adventure.

The story, for those who haven’t seen the trailer, is essentially this: Mark Watney is presumed dead and left on Mars while his crew leaves the planet in an emergency operation. With limited food and supplies, he needs to find a way to survive until he is found alive or until a new mission finally makes its way back to the red planet. To survive…he needs to science.

Hard science can be daunting to the uninitiated…after all, how many of us are astro-physicists, rocket scientists, or botanists? To prevent the film from become inaccessible to a wide range of viewers, heavy science is often punctuated with jokes for the layman and an underlying disco track to keep pace. This method works extremely well, keeping the film’s plot moving and our interest from waning.

These science montages are fun and they are actually the driving force for our interest. As things go wrong over and over again, it’s exciting to see how Watney and the folks at NASA attempt to work through problems and come up with clever solutions. That’s the real intrigue of the film…the underlying logic puzzle.

That and, of course, the politics of it all. While this aspect is subdued (and rightfully so), there are brief glimpses of ethical dilemmas…the cost of a human life, risk, and just the underlying strategy behind PR. All of this grounds the film a bit more, reminding us that not everything involved in space travel is easy or even pleasant. While we ultimately like and root for just about every character, it’s nice to see that many of them have other concerns to address.

The best character in the film, by the way, is Mars itself. It’s not just a backdrop…it’s a real, genuine character. The landscape, the atmosphere, even just the color itself; Mars is vibrantly realized and is one of the best aspects of the film. Whether it’s the harsh storms, the gritty soil, or just the long panoramas, the planet is brought to life like has never been before, and it elevates the film to another degree of greatness.

That being said, this film is not perfect. The narrative structure is just a bit too on-the-nose. You’ll know that something bad is about to happen before it happens, you’ll predict some of the imminent catastrophes, and there are very few surprises throughout. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster, and at times it really feels that way. There was, too, a scene that appeared to be directly lifted from one of the director’s previous films. Apparently, Scott was concerned that not enough people saw Prometheus, so he had to throw in a shockingly familiar shot just…because?

Those two gripes are extremely mild, and if a film’s only faults are that it shows signs of being what it is, then we as an audience come out top. It’s a wholly rewarding film that is entertaining to watch, intriguing to put together, and visually stunning. Hopefully this film will do for space travel what Jurassic Park did for dinosaurs…inspire. Inspire us to look skyward and press on, whether outer space scares us or welcomes us.

Alex Russo loves to talk about movies. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.

Alex Russo

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