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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Martian is a sci-fi space thriller based on Andy Weir's best-selling novel, a popular book among both adult and teen readers. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars when his crew thinks he died during an emergency evacuation. Expect some salty language (including "f--k," which is somewhat understandable given Watney's dire circumstances), a quick glimpse of Damon's rail-thin naked body from behind, a gory moment when Watney has to deal with a serious wound, and tense moments of peril, including the initial wind storm that results in Watney getting knocked out and impaled, subsequent explosions, and other life-and-death situations. Despite the strong language, this is a compelling, diversely cast thriller for middle schoolers and up who are interested in space travel, science, technology, and, of course, science-fiction.
What's the story?
Set in the near future, THE MARTIAN stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, the botanist on NASA's manned Ares 3 mission to Mars. Watney and the rest of the crew are working on Mars when a storm forces them to evacuate early. But when Watney's knocked unconscious and isn't in sight, mission commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), pilot Martinez (Michael Peña), and specialists Beck (Sebastian Stan), Vogel (Aksel Hennie), and Johanssen (Kate Mara), despondently presume him dead and leave him behind. Watney survives, but with no way to communicate, he must brainstorm ways to ration and grow food, make water, and otherwise survive with meager supplies as literally the only man on the entire planet. Meanwhile, back on Earth, a NASA satellite analyst (Mackenzie Davis) believes Watney's alive; once it's confirmed, all of NASA -- and the world's greatest minds -- collaborate to try and find a way to rescue him.
Is it any good?
Damon's charm, humor, and gravitas make this smart, action-packed adaptation an all-around perfect film for families with curious, science-loving teens and older tweens. It's equal parts Cast Away, Apollo 13, and Gravity: Like Tom Hanks in the former, Damon must portray the evolution of someone left for dead, but Watney's situation doesn't allow him to sit around eating tropical fruit; he must work hard every single day to ensure he's not going to die. And while the movie isn't ceaselessly intense like Gravity, there are dizzyingly tense parts in store for those who haven't read the book and don't know what happens. As for the Apollo 13 comparison, that (along with Damon's performance) is where The Martian proves remarkable: It focuses not just on Watney's survival, but also on how the ground teams at NASA and at Jet Propulsion Laboratory work nonstop to come up with solutions to bring him home.
The acting ensemble is terrific. In addition to Damon and the Areas 3 crew, led by Chastain and Peña, the all-star cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Mars mission director, Jeff Daniels as the cautious head of NASA, Kristen Wiig as a put-upon NASA public-relations director (and the only non-scientist in the movie), and Sean Bean as the brash Ares 3 flight director. But in the end, of course, this is Damon's show, and he doesn't disappoint; he's funny, smart, and generally so charming that viewers will be with Watney every step of the way. The only music he can listen to is Lewis' impressive digital collection of disco, and the '70s soundtrack provides surprisingly perfect accompaniment to Watney's various challenges, like "Hot Stuff" when he figures out a way to keep warm, or the end-credits song, which is too perfect to spoil. There are few movies that have it all: big-budget artistry, wonderful performances, humor, and real heart, but with The Martian, Ridley Scott has managed to make his best film since Black Hawk Down.
Talk to your kids about ...
Is Mark Watney a role model? What makes him such a fascinating character? What drives him to keep experimenting? How does he demonstrate courage and perseverance? What does his story teach us about surviving emergencies closer to home?
Is The Martian scary? If not, how would you describe the feelings you had while watching Watney struggle to survive? What makes a story a thriller?
The cast is noticeably diverse, but there are more men than women portrayed as working at NASA and JPL. Is this true to life? If so, how can girls be encouraged to pursue careers in the sciences?
If you've read the book, how well does the story translate to the big screen? What elements or moments did the filmmakers get right? What parts did you miss? Those who haven't read the book: Does the movie make you want to read it?
- In theaters: October 2, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: January 12, 2016
- Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Space and Aliens
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal, Golden Globe
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