A movie review of “The Martian”: Matt Damon is perfectly cast as a smart-alecky Everyman astronaut stranded on Mars. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Share story

What does a fellow need to survive on Mars?

In a word: Science!

And other words as well:

Movie Review ★★★  

‘The Martian,’ with Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Drew Goddard. 141 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images and brief nudity. Several theaters.

Pluck! Persistence!

Not to mention:

Duct tape! And … disco!

But above all: Science!

So important is Science! to the long-term survival prospects of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in “The Martian” that he even turns the term into a verb. To wit: “I’m gonna have to science the (expletive) out of this.” Said when ill fortune leaves him stranded and alone on Mars with only his wits and his knowledge of, well, you know, to keep him alive until a rescue can be mounted.

As a botanist and an engineer, Watney is well-equipped with the brain power needed to overcome the many obstacles director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard strew in his path on the Red Planet. The fact that he’s kind of a wise guy as well makes him a very relatable hero.

Damon is perfectly cast to play the smart-alecky Everyman, which is how he’s presented in the Andy Weir best-seller on which the movie is based. Daunted when a freak sandstorm injures him and forces his crewmates to blast off from the planet, believing he’s been killed, he quickly blows past despair and goes into “let’s work the problem” mode. That quote is one of the most memorable utterances in “Apollo 13,” a movie that “The Martian,” with its NASA-centric story and its all-hands-to-the-pumps, cooperation-is-key vibe, resembles more than just a little.

Back on Earth, the world, with NASA leading the charge, is gung-ho to help plucky, persistent Watney and bring him back alive. There are no villains here, no dark forces conspiring against the good guys.

And that makes it a most atypical Ridley Scott project. The last thing you’d expect from the maker of “Alien” and “Blade Runner” and “Prometheus” is an unfailingly positive story like this. It’s pretty sunny and often funny, a space oddity for a director not known for pictures with a sense of humor.

Quite a bit of the humor arises from the incorporation of disco tunes into the story, an element directly lifted from Weir’s book. Alone on Mars, the only music Watney has to listen to are disco hits left behind by his departed commander, played by Jessica Chastain. Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” are employed to great effect, underscoring and commenting on the action.

Oh, and duct tape? Used to make lifesaving fixes in critical busted components. Funny.