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Astronaut stranded on Mars survives by wits in space adventure

Kam Williams
Astronaut stranded on Mars survives by wits in space adventure
Matt Damon stars in “The Martian.” (Photo: Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox)

“MacGyver” was a TV series that revolved around a title character famous for relying on his vast body of scientific knowledge while using everyday household items to save the day in a variety of life-and-death situations. “The Martian” is an outer space adventure in which a stranded astronaut with an uncanny knack for improvisation takes a similar approach to surviving on Mars.

The picture stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, a wounded botanist inaccurately presumed dead and left behind by fellow crew members in the wake of a dangerous dust storm on the red planet. However, he is actually very much alive, but without the oxygen, water, food, equipment and other resources needed to last the four years it would take for NASA to mount a rescue mission.

So, resourceful Mark proceeds to do everything from perform surgery on himself to growing potatoes in a makeshift garden, fertilizing the plants with his own poop. And, like an intergalactic variation of the island-bound protagonist played by Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” Matt Damon appears alone on screen for the bulk of the sci-fi saga.

The great news is that Damon proves captivating, and the 141 minutes running time flies by in a flash. Besides amusing us with his ingenious inventions, Damon repeatedly makes us laugh via myriad humorous asides.

Directed by three-time Oscar-nominee Ridley Scott (for “Thelma and Louise,” “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down”), “The Martian” has all the tension of “Gravity,” plus it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for an hour longer. Furthermore, its visual effects are the equal of “Interstellar,” and it features Damon for the duration instead of merely for a cameo.

Think Robinson Crusoe on Mars, though sans any primitive manservant named Friday.