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Apollo 13.2

June 21st, 2016

Mars Attacks…my Last Nerve

Yesterday I decided to watch The Martian to kill time while the birds were out. Now I am annoyed.

Spoilers ahead. Duck and cover.

This movie is about an astronaut (Matt Damon) who gets left behind on Mars. The rest of the crew thinks he’s dead, so they go back to earth. Then they find out he’s alive, so NASA goes nuts trying to bring him back. Because life on earth without Matt Damon is unthinkable. Without him, his duty to preach sanctimoniously to the public would fall on Leo DiCaprio, making it necessary for him to charter twice as many carbon-belching jets.

The rescue job is not easy, because Mars is not very close to the earth. At best, in the story, it takes over a year just to get him new couture underpants from Dolce & Gabbana, let alone bring him back.

I don’t care about the nerd issues. Some people, I’m sure, are flipping out because of minor technical errors and deceptions. They’re probably upset because the sand storm that drives the crew off Mars couldn’t possibly be as damaging as it is in the movie. Stuff like that. Hey, this isn’t science class. News flash: there is no such thing as warp drive, either, and during your lifetime, there never will be. Get over it.

The plot issues are what bug me.

First, the deus ex machina problem. More accurately, let’s cut off two letters and call it what it is: deus ex China.

Ancient Greek dramatists often ran out of bad ideas, just as dramatists do today, and one of their fixes was the god machine. They would rig up a contraption that lowered a totally new character onto the stage. This was the machina, or machine. The character was the deus, or god. The god would wave his magic wand, click his heels together three times, and make the gorgon disappear or afflict the Spartans with the pox. Or whatever.

These days we don’t see Greeks being lowered with pulleys all that much, except in German nightclubs, but we do see similarly unsatisfying copouts in movies and shows. It’s a crappy trick to play on an audience. You spend an hour or more developing a terrible problem for your protagonist, and the audience tries to guess how he will fix it, and then you slap them in the face with Proteus or Poseidon or Steve Jobs, swinging in on a rope.

I mean, obviously, it wouldn’t be Proteus today. It would be Bruce Willis or maybe Sylvester Stallone, whose machina would probably be a walker or mobility scooter. “Stop, or my Certified Nursing Assistant Will Shoot!”

I love obscure references.

Screenwriters should take the time to come up with clever solutions, instead of sandbagging people with unsatisfying cavalry charges from left field.

I also love mixing metaphors. And to joyfully split infinitives.

In The Martian, NASA tries to send a supply ship to Mars, and it blows up. Matt Damon is a dead man, right? And he can forget about that crate of Clinique moisturizer. Or maybe they’ll come up with some clever plan! But no, nothing like that happens. Instead, they cut to a mysterious office in China, where two Chinese people start talking about giving their secret Chinese rocket to NASA for another shot.

Come on. Where was this rocket six months earlier, when the whole world was clamoring over the potential earth-shattering loss of Matt Damon? Nowhere. The writer hadn’t thought of it yet.


Maybe it was still on the truck to Harbor Freight.

By the way, the rocket doesn’t have a fuse or a colorful wrapper with something like “Dancing Fire Dragon Cluster” printed on it, and it’s not launched from a bottle. Chinese technology has improved a lot.

I think it’s safe to assume the owner’s manual is incomprehensible. “For make mission Mars, to apply pressure dial A in direction of Mongolia.”

Here’s another thing: one of Damon’s main torments is the presence of disco music. The mission’s commander is a woman, and woman have hellish taste in music, so she only brings disco, ignoring the desires of the rest of the crew. When the crew leaves the planet, the only music Damon can find in the Mars shelter’s computers is garbage like “Ring my Bell” and “Push Push in the Bush.”

The cruelty is appalling.

Here’s the question: how does anyone get to Mars in the smartphone/micro SD card age without a ton of MP3’s? It can’t happen. Totally impossible. I think my phone has 80 gigs of storage. Not sure; whatever it is, it’s full of demotivational posters and pictures of Grumpy Cat. Anyway, there is no way NASA would let a crazy woman strand people in outer space with Leo Sayer, in an age when you can store 400 albums in a card smaller than a Chiclet. And if she did, he would kill himself after a week. He would boogie-oogie-oogie out of the airlock and do the hustle with his helmet off until he died.

Pretty lame, right?

When Damon sets up a communications link to earth, he is able to send email. If he can send email, he can receive music files, right? Apparently not. We can put a man on Mars, but we can’t send him The White Album.

Here’s another problem. NASA decides to send the crew transport ship back to Mars with stuff for Matt. He has to launch a rocket NASA left on Mars and rendezvous with the crew ship to get food. Being Matt Damon, he’s probably hoping for Evian and organic free-trade seaweed paleo yogurt.

Okay…if he can rendezvous with the ship and pick up food…WHY CAN’T HE GET ON THE SHIP AND LEAVE?

Final problem: Apollo 13. Hello? We’ve been here before. Unforeseen technical problems on a space mission, followed by frantic cooperation between astronauts and brilliant people on the ground, garnished with numerous astonishing McGyverisms that keep people alive. And Apollo 13 was a real mission, and the movie was better. So what’s the point of The Martian? It’s not even the first survival movie sited on Mars. Does anyone remember Robinson Crusoe on Mars? Maybe not. But it happened.

I haven’t seen the end of the movie yet. I assume Matt will live, although the person who wrote this thing may have the unfortunate idea that it would be original to let him die. Unhappy endings are not new to cinema, so I feel like he might as well live. If the movie ends with him sitting on a rock, watching the sun set on Mars, feeling peaceful about becoming a piece of frozen jerky, I will probably have another rant to throw.

They say there are no original plots. Maybe that’s true, but we can do better than this. The movie is entertaining; it shows what NASA disasters would be like in the lolcats era. But it’s not The Third Man. More like The Thirdteenth Reheating of the Corpse of Apollo 13.

I guess I’ll fire up the DVR and see if Matt Damon dies. I’m not optimistic. I own a lot of Chinese tools.


Well, now I’m even more upset. It looks like the plan was to bring Will Hunting back, not to drop off Chinese food. I totally misunderstood. But I still feel vindicated, because I remembered another plot hole.

To take off to get to the mother ship, Damon has to get to another rocket. His crew left on one rocket, and NASA had another one miles away, waiting for a new crew.

So…he’s sitting around for months, starving, scrounging for tools and food…and he knows he can get in his rover and go to the other rocket, where he can find useful goodies.

Why doesn’t he go? Why? Why?

I much prefer space entertainment that doesn’t even try to involve reality. Give me Captain Kirk with a flip phone and a phaser, engaging openly in intergalactic racism and genocide without a care in the world. Hipsters in space? You can have them.

10 Responses to “Apollo 13.2”

  1. Sharkman Says:

    Quite possibly the Greatest Movie Review Ever Written©

  2. Andy-in-Japan Says:

    Hear, hear!!!!

  3. Steve H. Says:

    Thanks. I would have settled for a B.

  4. JayNola Says:

    It will interrupt your self torture regimen of Greek classics but I recommend the book. It makes better sense. don’t bother finishing the movie. the Hollywood doubles downat the end for a ridiculous finale

  5. Steve H. Says:

    So that crazy ending isn’t in the book. It reminded me of the thing in the Dan Brown book where the Pope’s assistant jumps out of a helicopter and uses a body panel as a makeshift hang glider. Because that always works.

    I enjoyed the movie, but I started feeling insulted after a while.

  6. Sharkman Says:

    I like this suggestion: “I feel like he might as well live. If the movie ends with him sitting on a rock, watching the sun set on Mars, feeling peaceful about becoming a piece of frozen jerky . . .”

    Larry Niven wrote a splendid little short story in 1968 called “Wait It Out” in which an astronaut is stranded on Pluto by a reactor accident. Command module in orbit heads back to Earth, and colleague also trapped on the planet has already committed suicide by doffing his helmet.

    Protagonist does the same, but takes his suit off first, rather than helmet, and he’s frozen as well, but it isn’t complete, and he’s stuck in some type of stasis.

    So, here’s the rub: When the distant flickering point of light that is the Sun passes by each day, our hero’s corpsicle is heated just enough that a tiny bit of electrical activity is stimulated in the frozen brain, and there is slooooooooowwww thought and awareness.

    And there is apparently some type of sentient life on Pluto that visits the stranded astronaut every once in awhile, composed of a blob of Helium II-based protoplasm.

    Pretty cool story that very much captured my imagination as a 12-year- old in ’75.

  7. Steve H. Says:

    I don’t know too much about Pluto, even though I’m in the same state as Disney World. I do know that Beetlejuice hated Saturn.

  8. Sharkman Says:

    Oh, and prepare to be further offended. I read the book and just checked my recollection of the ending by going to The Martian’s wiki page, as well as several other book review sites.

    The movie’s ending does contain the entire bull**** deus ex machina ending.

    Sigh, Hollywood.

    At least they aren’t remaking Ghostbusters with an SJW message, right?

    [edited by mod to get around profanity filter]

  9. Sharkman Says:


    It is prophesied that one of the Seven Signs of the Apocalypse will be seen when Hollywood remakes Beetlejuice.

  10. JayNola Says:

    I think the best review I read of The Martian started out “Hasn’t this country invested enough money and manpower in saving Matt Damon already?”