Tuesday, October 20, 2015

“Martian,” Go Home!


Ridley Scott is a superb director. Most of his films are visually mesmerizing even if one doesn’t like their themes, epistemology, or metaphysics, or share their senses of life. You watch them because of his artistry.  He is a kind of cinematic Rembrandt: You may not care for the subject, but the subject is so well executed you can't help but look at it. As with David Lean’s later work (e.g., Lawrence of Arabia), most of Scott’s directed films are consistently, visually stunning, from the oppressively dark (and rainy) Blade Runner to the edge-of-your-seat claustrophobia of Alien to the brutal combat arenas of Gladiator. I have not seen all of his directed films; some I have avoided seeing because the subjects do not interest or appeal to me (e.g., American Gangster).

It’s too bad he’s a lefty, or is in thrall to Hollywood’s lefty money moguls and studios.

Scott’s film oeuvre is inconsistent in subject and theme, as much as is, say, Otto Preminger’s. Preminger had a bad habit of making suspenseful films and then not resolving the stories, leaving the stories and viewers hanging. Anatomy of a Murder and Advise and Consent are notable examples. I’ve always maintained that some of the best Hollywood directors are, ideologically, the most influential in spreading or sustaining bad ideas. Preminger was one of them. For me, the most memorable film of Preminger’s (in a positive sense) is Laura (1944). Preminger’s output was so eclectic that it is difficult to say whether or not  he was a lefty.

But, remember: It was Ridley Scott who directed and created the iconic introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer in 1984. He helped to kick off the personal computer age we live in now.

The Martian is another story. It is a product of Barack Obama’s concept of what NASA should be about. Which is “saving people” from what he perceives as dire circumstances. It is basically a propaganda film that boosts NASA’s image. Its attraction to the public is that it portrays an individual solving life-saving problems – such as how to stay alive on a planet that is not naturally conducive to human or virtually any other kind of life and offers few resources that would aid him in that goal.


What follows are my strong reservations about The Martian. The story is set in some indeterminable near-future, to judge by some of the futuristic Earth-bound sets.

The opening scenes portray a crisis: a massive dust storm abruptly engulfs the base of the Ares III Mars mission. It suddenly appears over a mountain range and descends on the base. The winds are fierce, depicted stronger than Hurricane Katrina’s, causing total darkness and lots of howling and heavy metal objects flying around. Fearing that their escape vehicle will tip over from the force of the wind, the mission commander (a comely female who too resembled Dr. Beverly Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation), orders a lift-off with the crew. Botany scientist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is seen blown away by the wind. Thinking he was dead, the crew takes off without him.

However, I have been monitoring the Mars program for years, and knew that a Martian dust storm, no matter what its size (and such a storm can encircle the whole planet for a week or longer), packs no more punch than a slight summer zephyr at the beach here on Earth. The winds on Mars can barely cause a ripple on a nylon flag. See the article here, “'The Martian' Dust Storm Would Actually Be a Breeze“ for the low-down on that subject.

My next reservation concerns the ubiquity of the solar panels. Solar panels apparently were meant to supply power for everything, from the soil sampling tasks to operating the hot-and-cold showers in “the Hab” (habitat) the crew repairs to after a day’s work. What? No nuclear energy? The Curiosity Mars rover and the New Horizons Pluto probe are nuclear powered. No mention is made in the film of the mission’s ground level power source, which would have to be nuclear, because the power requirements of sustaining human life would far surpass what any size array of solar panel could provide.

Yes, the probe and rover employ solar panels, but only as nominal back-up power. Now, if solar panels here on Earth have such a poor record of generating power even on the sunniest of days, what kind of energy could they provide on a planet whose distance from the Earth can vary between 34 million and 250 million miles, depending on each planet’s relative position to each other in their revolutions around the Sun. The distance of Mars from the Sun is approximately 141 million miles, also depending on the planet’s point of orbit. See http://www.space.com/16875-how-far-away-is-mars.html for a more detailed explanation.

That the Ares III mission base was not powered by nuclear is conceded here on the Martian Trivia page:

Watney digs up a radioactive power source in "The Martian." It's called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), and NASA relies on them for long-distance space missions.

RTGs are essentially batteries powered by radioactive plutonium-238. As the plutonium naturally decays, it generates heat, and the battery casing turns the escaping warmth into electricity.

Plutonium-238 is pretty much impossible to turn into a nuclear weapon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It's also not the kind of dangerous, skin-piercing radiation that humans have to worry about (unless it gets inside our lungs).

Still, a nuclear battery is dangerous to have around because it's very hot.

Watley aka Matt Damon locates an expired nuclear-powered lander from the past that is completely buried in sand. He digs it up and takes it back to his base. He keeps warm with it and it’s the solution to all his problems. He laughs off the danger.

I can’t help but suspect that all the solar panels seen in the film were not props, but actual solar panels bought or rented from that failed “green energy” company of Obama’s, Solyndra, hauled out from the company’s rented storage unit somewhere.

Water: There was a storm in a teacup about the timing of the release of The Martian to coincide with NASA’s announcement that there is indeed water on Mars. Ridley Scott said that he knew about that months ago. But I can claim that I knew it a few years ago, having frequently logged into the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter site and seen the water flows. But, that’s the new NASA for you: cheesy, deceptive, and underhanded.

Gravity: Although it probably couldn’t be helped, just as it couldn’t be helped for cinematic depictions in the Star Trek series or any other space-bound story – in which “artificial gravity” is a must, characters must be able to  behave standing up, and not floating around – all the Mars-bound characters in The Martian move around as though Martian gravity wasn’t 38% of Earth’s.

And in the mother ship, the Hermes, there are scenes of the crew going hither and yon in a weightless state, and then suddenly their feet are magically gravity bound again. For example, when Watley guts his escape vehicle, Ares IV, and tosses out everything that was too heavy, it all falls to the ground as quickly as a ball dropped from the Tower of Pisa. And when Kate Mara, who was last seen being thrown under a DC Metro train by Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, floats skillfully from one end of the ship to the other, she winds up walking and talking like the repulsive wind-up doll she is.

Another oversight is the effect of cosmic rays or ultraviolet light on a person living on an ozone-free planet. Mars has no ozone layer to protect life, at least not one that covers the entire planet. One forms seasonally over its South Pole, but that is not where the Ares III base was located. Exposed without letup to UV rays, Mark Watley would have perished after about two years of living in such an environment, as would his potato patch. Burnt to a crisp, and probably blinded long before his demise. See this article about Mars’ chancy ozone layer, “A seasonal ozone layer over the Martian south polefrom 2013.

Some of these technical gaffes and inaccuracies are acknowledged by the film’s movers and shakers on the Martian Trivia page.

Another reservation of mine is that it was obvious that The Martian was cast with ethnic diversity imperatives in mind. Or, perhaps they were mandatory. Several of the “scientific” characters were “persons of color,” and incredibly so, because their appearance and behavior were such that one would normally expect to see them sleeping over New York City grates in the dead of winter, and not plotting courses between the Earth and Mars or scheduling drops of supplies to the surface of Mars. There is one exceedingly homely American-Chinese character who must have also been cast to represent the “weight challenged.” Unless I missed him, or he was in mufti, there was not a single Muslim character in the film. Obama, who wanted NASA to “reach out” to Muslims to bolster their alleged “self-esteem,” must have spit blood at the omission.

It was written into the script that an American rocket carrying a “care package” of supplies for Watley would blow up minutes into its launch, also leaving the Hermes in the lurch as it heads back to Mars to rescue Watley. The mishap wasn’t absolutely necessary to the story. But, Americans must fail somehow, somewhere. It is a strictly enforced Hollywood rule. This paved the way for the Chinese to enter the picture with their secret and “superior” launch rocket to resupply the Hermes before it returns to the Red Planet. They offer their rocket from the goodness of their hearts, or possibly as a ploy for prestige and publicity. “See! Those stupid Americans can't even send a firecracker into space without it blowing up. We’ll show them how it’s done!” It is our duty, you see, to give a Communist/Fascist dictatorship a fair shake at the box office.

Daniel Greenfield, aka Sultan Knish, who seems to know more about Hollywood than he lets on in his columns, remarked to me about the Chinese rocket sequence:

It was done to pander to Chinese authorities who these days determine foreign box office.”

Viewed as a propaganda film, The Martian is the perfect vehicle for Matt Damon, a social activist and lefty who has contributed heavily to the Democratic Party.  Open Secrets notes:

And the money-in-politics Oscar goes to … Matt Damon!

Over the past two decades, Matt Damon and his wife made $106,000 in federal political contributions. The “Invictus” star and his wife donated $9,200 to Obama’s presidential campaign and supported the candidacies of three other Democrats. However, almost 80 percent of Damon’s political cash — a cool $83,000 — has gone to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. This was not a competitive category; the only other contender was Stanley Tucci, who donated $250 this year to John Hall, a representative from New York’s 19th congressional district.

Seeing enough “Red”? You don’t need to go to Mars, either.

4 comments:

Edward Cline said...

The cover featured in this piece is from Frederic Brown’s 1955 novel, Martians, Go Home. Brown was a prolific and highly innovative writer, and I enjoyed reading his novels and short stories. Ayn Rand cited him as a talented writer in The Romantic Manifesto. You can read up on Brown and Martians, Go Home at these links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martians,_Go_Home

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredric_Brown

http://www.amazon.com/ASTOUNDING-Science-Fiction-September-Martians/dp/B010P4JAOC/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1445262893&sr=8-3&keywords=martians+go+home

I do recommend him.

Joe said...

Nice job Ed. I enjoyed the movie for the pro- science, man against nature element, but appreciate everything you pointed out here. Is this an example of what Rand called bootleg romanticism?

Edward Cline said...

Joe: I think the best scene was one of the early ones, in which Watley had to perform surgery on himself to remove the metal from his stomach. And, yes, the best scenes were when he was solving problems. But, overall, it was a package-deal film, as well.

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