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In 'The Martian,' Matt Damon Tries To Make It Back From The Red Planet


A new movie called "The Martian" lands on Earth today. It stars Matt Damon and is based on a best-selling novel hailed for being both imaginative and scientifically accurate. MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan has seen it and is here to tell us what he thought. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: OK, let's start with - I mean, let's guess - Matt Damon, he's the Martian?

TURAN: He is the Martian, yes. And he plays an American astronaut named Mark Watney. He's inadvertently left behind on Mars, 50 million miles away from Earth, all by himself. He can't communicate with Earth. And he has to figure out how to stay alive. The expedition is supposed to last 31 souls, which are Martian days, which are marginally longer than Earth days. But he has to stay alive for years until the next manned expedition gets there. And this is him talking to his video diary kind of talking about his plans.


MATT DAMON: (As Mark Watney) Let's do the math. Our service mission here was supposed to last 31 souls. For redundancy, they sent 68 souls worth of food. That's for six people. So for just me, that's going to last 300 souls, which I figure I can stretch to 400 if I ration. So I got to figure out a way to grow three years' worth of food here on a planet where nothing grows. Luckily, I'm a botanist. Mars will come to fear my botany powers.

MONTAGNE: Well, he sounds a lot more pumped than I would be under the circumstances.


TURAN: Me, too. No, well, this is kind of "Robinson Crusoe" on Mars. He's a man presented with a series of problems he has to solve. He delights in solving them. You know, this is really Matt Damon at his best. The character has to project self-confidence and a good sense of humor, and Matt Damon does that beautifully. And you're really on his side all the way.

MONTAGNE: And Ridley Scott is the director - master of science fiction movies - or dystopian movies more like it - "Blade Runner" and "Alien." What about this one, though?

TURAN: This is different. This is the first optimistic movie Ridley Scott has ever made in the future. He's made optimistic movies on Earth - "A Good Year." But this is the first time he's done this kind of a film that has this kind of a positive outlook to it. And, you know, he's a top director. This film works. Just - you can't imagine it working any better. This is really the best version of this possible story. And it's wonderful to see it unfold so beautifully.

MONTAGNE: So, Ken, it turns out that the very week that this film opens, NASA makes an announcement of water on Mars.

TURAN: (Laughter) Yes. I mean, this is really a fascinating - I don't know if you want to call it a coincidence or not. This film plays in part like an advertorial for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A lot of people walk around in branded clothing. It's like a catalog come to life. It's very pro-space exploration. And it's just all of a sudden, the very week the film opens, this story breaks in media around the world. So it's great for the film. What else can I say?

MONTAGNE: OK, well, Kenneth Turan is film critic for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Nice to see you again.

TURAN: Good to see you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.