The 'FORCE' that took the world on a wild ride through Interstellar Galaxies 39 years ago is back!
Or more accurately a cloned cousin of the original blockbuster "STAR WARS," the one that won gads of awards,
which was no easy feat when the movie line-up in 1977 was jam-packed with some of the most iconic movies of our time; "Smokey and The Bandit," "Saturday Night Fever," "Annie Hall," "Close Encounters of The Third Kind," "The Spy Who Loved Me," "The Deep," "Oh God," and "Goodbye Girl." (If only we could teleport back to the 70's).
This time around the episode is called "STAR WARS-"THE FORCE AWAKENS."
Audiences were back then, are once again being dazzled, whizzing through futuristic worlds in the midst of star studded black matter filled space, while chuckling at the corny campy banter of unconventional heroes, and meeting some quirky loveable robotic and wooly creatures destined themselves to become iconic names with a new generation of young...and old.
I was holding my breadth waiting to see if this newest reboot of George Lucas' original Eastern philosophically charged story (he describes himself as a Buddhist Methodist), strongly pitting good against evil in a kind of Sci-Fi Space Spaghetti Western, would live up to the hype.
Though the film "The Martian" may not deliver the futuristic punch "Space Odessey 2001" delivered in 1968, when living in deep space with a 'computer buddy' was an unimaginable light years away, in reality it should pack a bigger wallop. Because in 2015 THE FUTURE IS NOW!
In our lifetime, if you're under 60 - don't smoke-drink-and-eat loads of kale, life on the red planet of Mars is possible.
NASA as we speak is working on their first manned-mission to Mars scheduled to launch somewhere in the 2030's. Our mechanical counterparts, Curiosity and Rover, are already roaming Mar's red sandy slopes. Life could end up imitating art if they ever became non functioning buried relics, as did the rover-Pathfinder in the movie and could become crucial in aiding our future astronauts survival as they did movie astronaut Mark Watney.
The films storyline is simple: During a violent sand storm that threatens the crew of six astronauts living in a HAB on Mars, five manage to escape the planet, while one is left behind, mark Watney presumed dead.
Being the bad-A** Botanist and astronaut he is helps him to physically and psychologically overcome a string of survival challenges to keep from dying while the annoying slow moving brains at NASA can figure out how to get him off the planet and back to earth.
I won't ruin the surprises in the film, but will say they include H2O, CO2, Martial soil, air locks, nuclear waste, human waste, potatoes, disco music, rewriting computer codes, explosions...and a lot of hubris.
The press conferences also felt too short, and too slick, with the upscale suited reporters looking like they hailed from a Washington DC press room. Usually the people tumbling over in a NASA press conference room hail from Science Journals, Space Magazines, and Think Tanks, etc. etc., casually dressed, most often under parkas clad in jeans. Questions can get to the point of science nerd-dom or ascend into esoteric physicist speak. After all, everything they are attempting to do is deemed in the realm of the impossible.
I would say the 'Hermes' craft in the film was far removed from it's closest brethren, Space Station. If you've ever watched 'Live from Space Station', which is broadcast everyday on the NASA channel, live video feeds and interactions with the astronauts living there depict a rigorous schedule of experiments, loads of time spent on mechanical maintenance of 'station', as well as physical maintenance of the astronauts with multiple hour workouts. In other words their schedule is jam-packed.
So it seemed unrealistic in the movie that the crew flying home on the 'Hermes' would be lazily languishing in what looked like a plastic living room, catting about for the year they would be traveling back to earth. What about upkeep of that orbiting mega-craft? What about survival problems? What about some science experiments along the way?
Where's the thousands of wires, compartment, and gadgets that fill up the cramped space of the real 'station'? The 'Hermes' felt empty, cold, and empty, even more minimal than a Star Trek set.
Those two veteran actors carry off once again the art of under-acting, rather than the high speed fast talking dialogue spitting style of the current crop of actors meant to make up for their lack of depth of emotion or screen presence.
Harrison Ford is of the ilk of actor who makes the character, rather than the character defining him.
Those of us old enough to get a senior discount on coffee at MacDonalds can still remember where we were when JFK got shot, John Lennon died, or more appropriate -
the first man walked on the moon, those were historical moments. but the night any of us first saw "STAR WARS was even bigger!
To a teenager movies are the height of life's adventure, going to one, the height of social adventure, and I don't think that's changed. For me it was in a small un-air-conditioned antique summer theatre in a sleepy town in Maine, with squeaky crackling wooden seats and an occasional mouse trying to snatch up wayward popcorn kernels under foot, so most of us 15 year olds in the know kept our sneakered feet up on the edge of our seats. The amazing thing at the time was everyone, even grownups and our uncool parents were raving about the movie. That made it even Bigger!
Now back to the science.
Since you could not miss the iconic NASA logo plastered discreetly (yet prominently) all over the screen, one assumes NASA gave it their golden stamp of approval, which does uplift the film from
fiction-fantasy to first class space-drama ala reality (I believe there was a NASA scientist on board as adviser). Or maybe they just saw the film as a publicity tool to get Congress to commit more funding for their Mars Missions.
Full disclosure: I am a prejudiced observer. As a regular NASA channel viewer (please get someone over there to organize their program guide) and space enthusiast who googles any hot new planet or comet discovery, I have to admit part of me weighed and judged the movie on a pure scientific scale.
So, even though I would say the film was quite entertaining , a blast of life in the cosmos set to blasts of iconic music from the past, well worth seeing, I do have a few pet peeves.
If you have ever watched the JPL room during the crucial moments of a make or fail mission, packed with scientists waiting for a hint of a signal from one of their glorious creations (some that sucked the life out of dozens of years of their lives ) to merely send home a PING, or show up as a dot on a satellite feed, you're struck by the overwhelming emotions that ripple through the room: from anxiety to nail biting fear to exhultation, the likes of which make grown men and women cry and hug each other as if we just won another world war or saved the planet and humanity from extinction.
Where was that in the film?
STAR WARS- THE FORCE AWAKENS
Starring: Daisy Ridley Harrison Ford Carrie Fisher
Director: J.J. Abrams
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon William Hurt
Mainly because the previous numerous spin-off sequels dwindled into a soupy talky soap opera saga set in some monarchy kingdom floating somewhere out there with a storyline no one could follow and legions of weird creepy creatures, seen one you've seen 'em all.
Though my biggest concern on this one was, would Hans Solo show up, namely Harrison Ford, looking like a wrinkled up prune, and Carrie Fisher, a weathered blowfish.
Thankfully 30 minutes or so (way too long to wait) into a somewhat entertaining trip with orphan scavenger 'Rey' (Daisy Ridley) and gone rogue Stormtrooper 'Finn' (John Boyega), amongst some scenery porn (the new buzzword for killer landscapes), SHE - Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) - now a General leading the brave resistance, and HE - Hans Solo (Harrison Ford)- still the roguish bad-boy intergalactic spaceship hawker pilot, appeared, of course with his sidekick furry Chewbacca.
Wow! The entertainment needle jumped at that point. HE's still got it, HER facelifts aren't bad, and Chewy is well....the same old loveable sardonic kvetch.
One thing that leaves a profound impression, the credits at the end of the film went on for light years, only showing how complicated and difficult the making of a fine Sci-fi film really is, and leading me to believe half the population of Hungary and Jordan worked on the film.
In case I muddied the waters here - THE MARTIAN is well worth seeing, *****, but for the real science behind it READ THE BOOK!
And beyond whatever enjoyment level you find in it, it does serve as a reminder of how far we've come in our space exploration abilities while underscoring the power of the human mind to want-to, need-to, and ultimately find a way to survive.
I give the Screenwriter and Director J.J. Abrams of the current episode, "THE FORCE AWAKENS," kudos for following the road map of the 1977 original, because it works. Just enough action, just enough plot, and just enough wonky creatures.
The pivotal character MAZ Kanata (riveting voice -Lupita Nyong'o), a gnomish grandma with Mister Magoo eyes and heart, who helps direct Hans Solo and the team to 'finding their way' as well as the elusive Luke Skywalker, was a wonderful new addition and fine achievement of the mechanical wizards and special effects gurus who bring the whole sci-fi world to life, especially the miniaturized motorized computerized special effects we take for granted now. Before these guys all we had was the razzle- dazzle of the little pac-man munching his way across our crude screens.
So glad C-3Po came back to life, but BB-8 stole the show!
The simple synopsis: 30 years after the defeat of Darth Vader and the Empire, there is an evil son filling that dark role, with a twist which I won't spoil as to his ancestry. A pretty scavenger girl teams up with an adorable droid, and a Stormtrooper deserter from the First Order - the new really bad guys in the galaxy.
They hook up with Hans Solo and Chewy and General Leia and C-3Po and battle the begeebies out of the daunting legions of the First Order.
If you want the full mind-bending storyline synopsis check it out on IMDB, it's brain fever detailed.
I do recommend you rent, buy , or see "STAR WARS - THE FORCE AWAKENS" in a theatre, for that iconic space adventure that ticks all the boxes, and should, just as the original did, spawn whole new generations of crazed fans with indelible memories.
Here-say is the next episode is already in the can. I say, be careful Disney not to pull the 'perils of Pauline' stunt on fans since Hans Solo has been.....
There certainly is a lot of science to be read in-between-the-lines of what made it onto the screen, which is where Director, Academy Award winning Ridley Scott, chose to keep it. The true complex intricacies of the astrophysics it takes to keep things running on a foreign planet are as white-washed as the sets seem to be.
To get a real dose of planetary stuff you have to read the book the film was based on, "The Martian," by Andy Weir. he's a self-professed space-nerd software engineer and avid hobbyist of relative physics, orbital mechanics and the history of manned flight. He's worth listening to. And hoards of folks have been. That online following of his rants got his book noticed and wallah, it became a film. Even he was bowled over by the speed at which it happened.
The book has a wild loose free chain-of-thought kind of style which sets it apart from most other over calculated Science Fiction novels.
In that the film mimics the book with it's free-wheeling narrative style.
Ridley Scott and the screenwriters did punctuate it nicely with doses of black humor delivered up by
astronaut Watney while shaking his booty to disco music and bantering his continual up-yours to death at every beat.
What Director and Production Designer Ridley Scott did layer in was a lot of space crew antics. That rings true. From hearing many lectures given by astronauts, one ascertains that humor becomes a crucial component in keeping one's physical and mental well-being in check during their missions, a sort of frustration valve-steam vent, along with the test-pilot demeanor they must maintain while death hovers over their every move.
The drama in the first half of the film seemed to play out a little too easily: After getting knocked around hundreds of yards this way and that in a 300 mile an hour dust storm post being struck by a metal spear in his chest, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) just walks off into the perfectly preserved habitat, operates on his wound, and Bam! -jump to a few weeks later he's all healed and growing a massive potato crop in somehow uncontaminated Martian soil (I was skeptical potatoes would be the best choice but then if you read the book, or science guide, you understand why he chose that crop. Abundant supply of vitamins = necessary nutrients, but potatoes= necessary calories). Then Bam! - he's driving around like a teenager on a jaunt finding lots of stuff, communicating with NASA, Bam! -he might be coming home.
There never really was a drawn out ' I'm on my last breath' struggle or suffering that would have made his triumphs all the sweeter.
But then it seems we turned the corner on that type of film content in Hollywood half a dozen years ago with contemporary directors feeling compelled to spoon feed us with short bites of real emotion packaged in an MTV style.
(For the unabashed drudging chronicle of gritty human struggles you have to look to foreign films. Though in many cases that may have more to do with their lack of funds over their purer motives, reality over a bandwagon of special effects.)
As to the casting:
Matt Damon felt a little strained trying to be more bad-a** than he really is.
Jeff Daniels, as the NASA director, felt flat.
The stand-outs: Mackenzie Davis as the lowly SATCOM gal who spotted astronaut Mark's movements on patched satellite pics and who figured out he was alive to begin with, Chitwetel Ejiofor as the NASA Mars Mission Director who filled the screen with energy and heart, Benedict Wong who was wonderfully quirky
nerdy NASA-ish, and Sean Bean who should have had a larger role.
The rest of the actors didn't have enough meat on their roles or screen-time to standout.