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The third major astronaut movie in as many years (following Gravity and Interstellar), The Martian benefits from the experience of director Ridley Scott and likability of star Matt Damon.

When an accident forces his crewmates to presume his death and return to earth without him, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) must find a way to survive alone on Mars until he can be rescued by NASA’s next mission to the planet—four years later.

The Martian breaks from what looks like it could be Tom Hanks’s Castaway set in space when NASA satellite imaging reveals Mark alive and moving on the surface. Comparisons to another Hanks movie, Apollo 13, are more apt as the film celebrates remarkable scientific problem-solving and intercosmic teamwork.

Compared to other recent films set in space, the creators of The Martian (including the author of the original novel), keep it painstakingly grounded in good science. So while the plot is fictional, its restriction to the possible, or at least plausible, hooks the audience into this stirring, extraordinary story.

Astronaut Mark’s survival, and the film’s success, depend on the character’s good humor and Matt Damon’s ability to oscillate between grief and hope. Despite the seemingly bleak premise and reliance on hard science, Mark’s optimism and a surprising amount of disco music make the film remarkably fun.

Rated PG-13 primarily for language, it’s hard to hold some strong words against such a nice guy left for dead on Mars. (20th Century Fox)

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