Just saw The Martian. Best movie of the year for me.
I watched it with a group of five friends – each with a PhD* in various fields – biology, quantum physics, applied physics, and two in electrical engineering. (They could’ve stood in for the crew in the movie!) They thought the film was pretty legit in the science department, so I’ll take their word for it.
If you like science or space, go watch it. If you have young kids and you want to see if you can kindle or stoke their interest in science, go and watch it with them. Really enjoyable, engaging movie.
A couple other thoughts.
I found their casting decisions to be really positive – it felt more diverse on the racial and gender front than I would have expected for a Hollywood production. I think it must have been a conscious decision to cast a woman as the mission commander – she has to make some very tough decisions to make in the movie, and she makes them in a way that unambiguously shows she’s a strong leader. Fictional characters can make great role models, and the women leaders in The Martian can inspire the girls who watch the movie to aspire to the same.
I also found that the Chinese tie-in was interesting. There’s of course the heartwarming angle about scientists cooperating free from politics (and it’s a good reflection of how scientists around the world really do collaborate on all manner of projects). But ironically, politics has also probably influenced those scenes being in the movie.
That’s because the political climate of the day often dictates who plays the villains in movies. During the Cold War, the Russians were always the bad guys. These days, the Russians are making a comeback of sorts – there are so many movies and TV series these days where the Russian mob is involved. On the other hand, I think Hollywood has backed off from casting Chinese as the bad guys. My theory is that it’s driven by financial interests. The Chinese movie-watching market is a huge one, and you don’t want to alienate such a large audience by casting their country in such an antagonizing way. The Chinese are also starting to reach out to Hollywood with financing (did you notice the Alibaba Pictures logo at the start of the latest Mission Impossible?). It’s also not good to antagonize your funding sources. The Chinese tie-in also recognizes the rise of China as the world’s second largest economy and the ascendancy of its space program.
The movie also kind of gave a shout out to lawyers as well! I actually studied space law in law school and participated in an international space law mooting competition, so it was cool to hear the bit about space pirates!
Anyway, go see the movie.
* Yes, I am the Wolowitz of that group: