The planet Mars is host to some of the greatest mysteries that baffle our space scientist’s minds. Did it ever support life? Did it ever have water? Why did it appear red for so many centuries? And most incomprehensible of all – how the fuck did The Martian win a Golden Globe for Best Movie, Comedy or Musical?
This ain’t a comedy – apart from maybe two or three quirky one-liners about our hero starving to death in a space suit. And the guy in question, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) never breaks into any rousing chorus song before dancing the can-can around a nearby crater. So go figure about that Golden Globe…
However, it is a good movie worth an award. It’s a fairly predictable “Robinson Crusoe Goes To Mars” story with, obviously, a unique setting and sci-fi type obstacles to Watney surviving, rather than head-hunting cannibals who want to scoop his brains out with a wooden spoon. The poor bastard gets left behind when everyone else abandons the Mars exploration camp because of a violent storm – a storm which trashes Watney’s Life Support “I’m not dead” electronic thingy and they assume he’s been toasted, too. Useless bastards could have looked out the window before hitting the blast-off button…
So Watney has to figure out a way to survive another few years on his own until, as he already knows, the next Mars mission is due to arrive. Then he can somehow travel across to the new landing zone and knock on the door for help – no doubt scaring the absolute fuck out of the astronauts inside who think they’re the only living things within a zillion miles or so. Fortunately, Watney is a Botanist and plans to grow a bunch of vacuum-packed potatoes to eat. To help things along, sharp-eyed NASA observers on Earth notice that the Mars Exploration toilet seat is being left up suggesting that some bloke – take a wild guess, it’s Watney – is still alive and needs saving.
But this is kind of “present day” science fiction and no one can simply turn the spaceship around and go pick him up. It’s all about impossible distances, years of mind-numbing space travel and insurmountable logistics – a bit like driving the Forrest Highway really. No surprise, there’s the prerequisite nerdy kid who’s spent his entire life wanking alone over pictures of Sigourney Weaver half-naked in Alien – who figures out a “better” way to save Watney when the freeze-dried shit hits the oxygen-regeneration unit.
That’s enough spoilers. It’s a cool, entertaining movie with plenty of special sci-fi effects for Trekky and Star Wars fans. About the only fly in the plot ointment is believing that anyone could survive so long just eating spuds – but I suppose it worked okay for the Irish in the 19th Century.
Check it out with a big bag of popcorn and a carton of beer – or a mountain of potato chips if you want to get into The Martian zone.
400 DAYS: FILM REVIEW
Okay, I’ll do the right thing and warn you that some of this review might be regarded as spoilers. Which has nothing to do with how the script, the cast, the plot and production values do a great job of spoiling the entire film anyway, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
400 Days steals its concept from the very real HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation) experiment where pseudo astronauts are simulating space travel and imitating living on Mars to determine if any adverse psychological effects might happen during the real thing. Like, if you might suffer any urges to axe-murder your fellow crew, because they didn’t replace the used toilet roll. Bastards.
In 400 Days it’s a private organisation, not NASA, and four wannabe astronauts are entombed in an underground, mock-spaceship facility in the middle of the desert to pretend they’ve embarked on a long mission to another planet (no prizes for guessing how long). They’re warned that all kinds of bad, simulated space shit will happen and they have to cope. If successful, at the end of the four hundred days maybe NASA will give them a job… or something.
The first fly in the film’s ointment appears when we meet our intrepid crew. Even in a privatised venture you’d expect that any participants would have met some extremely stringent entry qualifications. Obviously, NASA will never send just any fucking idiot into space. However, the company behind the 400 Days project apparently believes that NASA will send not only one, but four fucking idiots to Mars and beyond — the crew in this movie.
The captain of the “ship” rolls up on Day One with a crippling hangover, because his girlfriend dumped him. This makes perfect sense. Neil Armstrong was probably on the piss for weeks before landing on the moon. Our second crewman can’t take anything seriously — great criterion for taking part in any in-depth simulation. Crewman Three is a weedy, psychotic wreck before he even goes down the ladder. The fourth member of the team is, of course, a cute attractive girl who doubles as the crew’s doctor and psychologist.
Awesome idea, let’s lock three fucked-up, horny fools underground with a stunning girl who’s going to be giving them regular prostate examinations. What could possibly go wrong? In fact, what she does give them is scheduled injections of stuff they didn’t agree to — and, lo and behold, all kinds of hallucinogenic, scary shit starts to happen (I use the term scary under advisement) including unseen monsters banging on the hull and knocking on the door. The team also loses all contact with so-called Mission Control, but nobody’s willing to pop the hatch and check if Occupation Health and Safety has closed the whole thing down, because that would rate a fail if they’re wrong, get it? No job at NASA for you, arsehole.
So the big question is — are the hallucinations, the terrifying noises, the lack of contact and truly appalling fucking plot all part of the simulation… or has something real gone wrong?
There is one spectacular crash — but sorry, we’re not talking special effects here. It’s in the credibility of the script. Otherwise 400 Days is just a lazy, low-budget piece of sci-fi fodder with most of the film shot, I suspect, in the director’s own kitchen. The self-serve checkouts at Woolworths look more futuristic than 400 Days’ set design. Even when they finally pop the hatch and emerge, it’s night-time and pitch black. The obligatory tumbleweed rolls past. And although they know it’s still Earth and they’ve only been underground, the crew still put on their pretend space suits and helmets — for fuck’s sake (sigh).
Honestly, the most impressive bit of sci-fi, space imagery used for the film is the picture on the front of the DVD cover (yes, that’s it above). It probably took the entire CGI budget. I could say, “What a crock of shit” — but it tricked me into watching this rubbish, so you gotta hand it to them.
Maybe I’m being too harsh and the film was unfortunately released at roughly the same time as the latest Star Wars, where the budget for Harrison Ford’s food blender was larger than 400 Days’ complete production — comparisons aren’t going to help. So, by all means have a look for yourselves, but I recommend you wait until it slips onto the “Weekly” DVD shelves.
I should mention the ending. You’ll blink twice and say loudly, “What the fuck?”
Does that give you a hint?