Science fiction has always been the realm of the unexplained, our place to dream for a brighter future and push the boundaries of reality. When we think of sci fi we think of strange new worlds, of whacky aliens and weird technology. Star Wars gave us adventure and fantasy in a sci fi setting, Terminator blasted onto our screens as a humans vs cyborgs shoot-em-up, Firefly showed us that a new galaxy is just another frontier. There are many sub-genres to sci fi, and many stories to be told. But at the core of all of them is humanity's simple longing to understand itself better.
In the last ten years, serious sci fi films have looked inward rather than outward, revealing that no matter how far fetched your setting, humankind always behaves the same way. We still get lonely, we still strive for a better future, we still love each other. The Martian is definitely going to follow this trend. With a star studded cast, this film is going to be in turns poignant and thrilling, if the initial trailer is anything to go by.
The story follows Mark Watney as he tries to survive on Mars after his team are forced to leave without him. In a race to get back to him in time, the characters have to decide what's more important: obeying their superiors or saving their friend's life.
Lost in Space
Loneliness is a daunting concept. Stranded on the red planet, Watney faces 4 years without human contact, struggling to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment. For many, this would seem like a prison sentence. Yet there is something to be said for true solitude: our world has become very small in the last century. We can talk to someone a million miles away at the click of a button. The world has never been more connected, and yet sometimes this can be more overwhelming than enjoyable. The idea of being stranded on a rock, with no-one to turn to is terrifying. But maybe we long for a little quiet, and The Martian is ready to confront this idea.
The movie seems to work on a dual plot structure: while Watney fights to survive alone, his team have to come together to rescue him. The cast is one of the most tantalising aspects of the film: Jessica Chastain seems ready to reprise a role very similar to Murph in Interstellar, Chiwetel Ejiofor returns to sci fi after his stunning performance in 12 Years A Slave, and Sean Bean will hopefully... not die! It will also be nice to see veteran comedy actors Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover flex their drama muscles. Watching these talented actors play with the idea of teamwork will contrast nicely to Watney's mind bending solitude, as they have to overcome the odds and bring him home.
The Martian is very much following in the footsteps of Sunshine and Interstellar, taking a more grounded and realistic view of sci fi in order to tell stories not about aliens, but about people. With a movie market flooded with blockbusting franchises, original films have to stand out. The trend in serious sci fi has definitely leaned towards human interest tales, setting age old stories of rescue and redemption in new situations.
So what does this say about us? Even with our advancements, the stories we love best are the ones that speak to our greatest hopes and fears. Are we just retracing our steps: should sci fi be bolder in the questions it asks? Telling human tales over and over again in different settings could be said to be unimaginative. Or perhaps tales of friendship and adversity are still popular because they are easy to relate to. It doesn't matter what planet you're on: humans will always reach out to each other, trying to find an anchor in a vast universe. Just like Mark Watney, we are all of us just trying to find a little piece of home.