THE SCI-FI PODCAST EP 19: The Martian (2015)

TSFP The Martian BannerWelcome to The SciFi Podcasta wretched hive of scum and villainy a bi-weekly podcast focused on in-depth discussion of all things Science Fiction. The SciFi Podcast features three hosts—Mattroid, Solo, and Station!—and frequent guests. Each episode we look at a science fiction theme or franchise and take the discussion where no show has gone before.

This episode we bring back our real life friend and a real life physicist, Brian “The Brain” Patchett, to get his insights on the use of science in Ridley Scott’s latest, The Martian. Just how scientifically accurate is this movie?! You’re about to find out.

Theme music courtesy of I Hear Sirens, featuring Matt on bass and Liz on keyboard. Hear more of I Hear Sirens ethereal, instrumental, post-rock at BandCamp. Podcast production and artwork SpaceWolf.

45 thoughts on “THE SCI-FI PODCAST EP 19: The Martian (2015)

  1. Great job, Brain! I’d have been very interested to hear all of the points discussed on THE MARTIAN panel you presented for.

    I found the discussion of the wind on Mars fascinating. That didn’t even occur to me. The blood coagulation was really interesting as well.

    I was glad that you guys addressed the IRON MAN plot point and I’m glad to hear that it’s fake. It really bugged me when I watched it, partly because it seemed a step too unbelievable and partly because it’s been done to death since WALL-E.

    You answered most of my questions. My 3 remaining questions for Brian:

    1. Would the tarp actually work? I was definitely concerned with the tarp as an airlock, but I was 10x more concerned with it as the roof of his escape pod.

    2. Why did he abandon his potato plan after the airlock breach? Couldn’t he just start over? Is there any scientific explanation or further explanation in the book?

    3. Why does he approach the camera the way he does? Is it a plot contrivance or a scientific reason? It seems like he could have communicated so much faster and in so much more detail than he does.

      • Alright:
        1) Tarp. Yes, the tarp is well within the required sheer modulus to hold back just under an atmosphere of pressure, (the pressure in the HAB). It is also supported by the tape that he used to reinforce it symmetrically. I would be worried more about the actual seal between the cabin and the plastic, that issue was not handled all that believably in the movie, but I do think the method is a plausible one. The only thing that may be a bit off is that it should have been rigid, it’s like a balloon with high pressure on the inside and low pressure on the out. So the flapping in and out in the wind is not too true to the situation.
        2) He may have been able to start over… When the HAB breaches the water he had been storing up in the soil instantly evaporated in the low pressure, what little that may have remained was frozen instantly by the low temp on the surface. This freezing also killed off all of his nitrogen/ammonia producing bacteria that he needed in the soil for the plants to grow, (the human “fertilizer” he mixed up), it is likely that his diet was too poor and did not produce enough as just one man to remix some more fertilizer to grow the plants in. So it may have been possible, but really it was more likely not to be.
        3) His narrative in the book is actually told through the reading of his personal log entries. This was adapted to the video logs for the movie because how boring would that have been to watch Watney write in a book for two hours? His interaction is based on his personality profile. Something the book covers, that the movie does not, is that personality is a huge factor in astronaut selection. So his personality/language/mannerisms were all a factor in selection for deep space travel. Think about living in a tin can for months on end with the same people. It’s not easy. Sarcastic comments and constant humor are one of the only ways that group dynamics tend to remain stable among subordinates, (non-executive officers). The novel actually has quite a bit of interaction between him and the crew once they find out he survived. He writes them all, and says very endearing personal things…BUT I DIGRESS. Humans are tribal creatures, we hate isolation. One of the common tactics individuals employ when they are isolated is to anthropomorphize objects. (Think Wilson from Castaway). This provides a pseudo-human type of contact that relieves some of the pressure of feeling isolated. In the book he talks to his journal as if it is a person, or as if he is speaking directly to a future reader. So he is himself, he talks like he would to a crew mate or to a friend. This allows him to keep some of his sanity while isolated with little to no chance of survival. One thing to note is that NASA takes these scenario’s into account when selecting astronauts. How do they handle the stress of facing their death? Do they have a positive social contribution to the group? Are they like-minded with at least one or more of the crew members? These are all factors included with, Are they qualified and capable to perform space flight? So his personality, his sarcasm, his wit and obnoxious moments, they are all the portrayal of a man doing what he needs to do to relieve the pressure he is under and find a way to survive.

        I would also like to point out that the character is a Mechanical Engineer in the novel, and trained by NASA to do Botany studies on Mars. This is a typical practice, but it explains why he has such a wide knowledge on so many subjects when things start breaking.

        ALSO: If you have not heard it, the Radiolab episode titled “In the Dark” has an excellent interview with an astronaut who finds himself in a life or death situation, listen to how he handles it. His description of his emotional reaction to his immanent death and subsequent drive survival might remind you of the astronaut portrayed in The Martian.

  2. My question for Matt & Liz:

    1. What did you guys think of the X-FILES movies?

    Not being familiar with the show, I quite enjoyed both films. Did Jason’s explanation of the second film help your experience going in?

    • Loved the first one, but it’s more a great episode than a stand alone movie. The second was really good, but not great or anything.

      The new season of X-Files, however, is the bomb.

      Also, we got to meet Gillian Anderson last week. Wow.

  3. I could not agree more with Brain’s final diatribe about the impact of this film on young people and, ultimately, science.

    For me, the reason to see this movie is the science.

    I wasn’t all that impressed with Ridley Scott. The movie is impeccable, visually, but I was never wowed the way I expect to be by Scott. I’d agree with Brain that Ridley’s heart didn’t seem to be in it.

    I like Matt Damon and he was great here, but his performance never wowed me in the way that he has so many times before.

    But the science … oh, the beautiful science! This movie had me questioning my life’s choices. Why am I wasting precious time with silly art? I just wanted to LEARN when I stepped out of this movie. If it has even an eighth the impact on my kids that it had on me, I suspect they will be much more enthusiastic students than I ever was.

    I was never bored by Damon’s Bill Nye meets MacGuyver methods. In fact, I wanted more. Now, I love procedurals, so that’s my bias, but what a blast to watch. Same goes for the scientists on Earth. I love a good “Men on a Mission” film and this is that.

    I’d give The Martian an 8 and call it a must BUY so that you can show it, repeatedly, to everyone under 18 in your life.

    My wife and I reviewed this film with Movie Podcast Weekly when it came out. Cody Clark was also a guest. Good show! If we’d only had Brain to drop some knowledge:

  4. Ok, Ridley Scott lists! Mattroid gave his and Solo gave a joke list, but we never heard Brain’s or Station!’s … everybody post yours!

    1. Blade Runner
    2. Alien
    3. Gladiator
    4. The Martian
    5. Matchstick Men
    6. Prometheus
    7. Black Rain
    8. Body of Lies
    9. Legend
    10. Kingdom of Heaven (director’s cut)

    Honorable-ish mentions: Black Hawk Down -tie- American Gangster -tie- Thelma & Louise

    • It’s only through looking over Ridley Scott’s IMDb page that I realize how few films of his I’ve actually seen. It looks like I’ve only seen three Scott directed films.

      I’ll see myself to the time-out chair.

        • Thanks to watching The Martian this morning, I’m now up to a whopping four Ridley Scott movies.

          Previously to The Martian, the only Scott movies that I’ve seen were Alien, Black Hawk Down, and Hannibal. Naturally, Alien is quite good, even if I do prefer Aliens. Alien was the sort of film that really grew on me over time. Thanks to an US history course I took in high school, I read the novel and watched Black Hawk Down in school. The movies were a big reason why I took as many US history classes as I could in high school. Ha. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie though, although I seem to recall enjoying it. To be honest, I’m not a big war movie fan. I think it has something to do with the fact that it becomes difficult remembering who’s who due to everyone looking so similar. As for Hannibal, it’s okay, but ultimately pretty dull. I prefer Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter, and even Red Dragon to it.

          I’m well aware that I haven’t seen most of Ridley’s best movies though. Who knows, if some podcast would happen to review Blade Runner, I’d probably be likely to watch it. I don’t have any excuse for why I haven’t watched Prometheus yet.

    • Great list, Josh! I have to admit that although a huge fan of Ridley Scott, there are still quite a few movies I’ve yet to see like Legend, Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies, and American Gangster. So, with that in mind, here is my list:

      1. Alien
      2. Blade Runner
      3. Gladiator
      4. Prometheus
      5. Matchstick Men
      6. Thelma & Louise
      7. Black Hawk Down
      8. Hannibal

      Everything else he’s done, I haven’t seen. So yeah… I’ve got some homework.

    • I was a little aghast when Bladerunner didn’t even come up in the discussion of Ridley Scott’s best films so I’m glad you had it as your number 1, Josh.

      I’m surprised by how few of Scott’s movies I’ve actually seen. But here’s my top 5 (6):

      1. Bladerunner/Alien (a perfect tie)
      2. Thelma and Louise
      3. Prometheus
      4. Black Rain
      5. Hannibal

      I’ve also seen Gladiator but thought it kind of overblown, and Legend which, in a likely controversial stance, I’m not a big fan of. I’m normally a total sucker for those imaginative/dark/off-kilter 80’s fantasies (Krull, The Neverending Story, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Return to Oz, Dragonslayer etc) and for the most part I eat them up as an adult even in cases where I don’t have the nostalgic connection predicated by a childhood viewing. Legend is an exception though. I only saw it for the first time quite recently and while the sets and special effects are of the ilk that would normally win me over instantly I just could not stand the main characters. That princess was horridly self-absorbed to the point of parody and Tom Cruise did nothing for me. I guess I always appreciate the amazing visuals in these types of films but the thing that really sticks with me is all the heart you would usually find in such flicks. To me Legend just felt like a beautiful veneer without that all important element.

          • I forgot about Black Rain, which I just watched very recently. I thought it was ok. Visually, it reminded me of a watered down version of Blade Runner, but the story and characters were a bit vanilla in my opinion. I’d probably have it dead last in my list. Still, the prevalent use of the word babe throughout the movie is worth the price of admission. Am I right, babes?

            • The mythology is that Black Rain was supposed to a kind of sequel-in-spirit to Blade Runner, although I have never looked that info up since the internet has existed. Just rumors I heard as a kid.

              • Thanks for the info, babe. Yeah I can definitely see that. Blade Runner this is not though. I’ve also never been a fan of Michael Douglas either, so it didn’t help that he played the lead role.

                • I LOVE Michael Douglas, if only for The Game and A Perfect Murder. Oh, and Romancing the Stone! That’s enough to make him one of the greats, in my opinion. I know Jay is obsessed with Falling Down. That’s what I imgaine his eventual snap will be like as well.

  5. —Some spoilers for The Martian

    I read The Martian back in July 2015 after my uncle went on and on raving about it. For him, he loves all of the science and math, particularly in terms of how Weir tried to make everything as realistic as possible. The strength of the book is that it certainly delivers for the geeks out there, but there’s also such a dramatic story filled with comedy that it’s still appealing for a layman.

    The trailer for the movie was pretty interesting in that if you watched it, you would be under the impression that they gave SO much away. In reality, most of what happens in the trailer is just the general plot. Still, the trailer did go a little too far for spoilers, although not as far as it initially feels if you haven’t read the book.

    For the most part, I’d say the movie delivered. Matt Damon tends to be great in anything he’s cast in. I was disappointed that Watney’s journey to Schiaparelli was so downplayed. In the book, that was the most dramatic portion of the story for me and yet in the movie, it’s just briefly glossed over. I did like the significance and buildup to the reveal of the Pathfinder. In the movie, they made it feel like a big deal, but it was more matter of fact in the novel. In both the movie and novel, I hated the romance between Johanssen and Beck. We first find out about it in the book when Watney is recording his final videos for the crew and he tells the one (I can’t remember which one) to just tell the other that they like them. Wait…what? It came out of left field. In the movie, there was a couple of moments that I noticed that I’m sure I wouldn’t have noticed had I not read the book beforehand. Either be more obvious about the romance or just not do it at all.

    Really though, the movie is all about Watney. I love the character and due to his good nature personality, the story flows along nicely. As Brain said, in the novel, they highlight the fact that Watney’s personality is a big reason why he was even selected to be a part of the Ares III mission. There’s some good emotion in the movie, particularly whenever Watney isn’t able to use his sense of humor to mask his fear. The scene that got to me the most is near the end when he’s on the Ares IV MAV and he’s waiting for it to be shot into space. He has no idea whether this will be successful, but this is it for him. He’s either going to finally be rescued and have some actual interaction with people again for the first time in two years or he’s going to be killed. It’s remarkable in that this is the only part in the entire movie where Watney doesn’t have any control. Before that, his fate was in his own hands, whether that meant survival or death. Another reason why this scene is emotional for me is because it’s the only time in the story where you actually believe Watney survival is up in the air. You know Watney is going to live to see the ending, otherwise, the movie and novel will be shorter. Yet, he didn’t need to ultimately survive the movie.

    Overall, had I watched this back in December, it may have been on my MPW top ten. It’s really good, but the novel is considerably better.

    I’d give it a rating of 8.5 and a recommendation to stream.

  6. I finished the podcast yesterday and hats off to one of the more fun episodes you guys have done. It sounded as if you guys had a ball, which translated well onto the show.

    First off, ketchup on mac n cheese is delicious. If you don’t eat your mac n cheese like that, you’re not a bad person, but I just feel bad for you.

    Second, I have some questions for Brain, The Sci-Fi Podcast’s version of Mark Watney.

    – You guys touched on the physical effects of being on Mars for too long due to the gravity differences to earth, which made me think about multiple generations. Say we land on Mars in 2030 and begin a small colony. Forty years go by and we’re now seeing the first full fledged Martian in that these babies were born on Mars with their parents having been born as Mars as well. Would the gravity cause these Martians to be pathetic any puny beings or would it be more likely that they’d find a way to adapt to the environment better than the earthlings that came to Mars? Should I be betting money that The Martians will be doing terribly in the Universe Olympics in 2096?

    – Speaking of the exciting Universe Olympics in 2096, if it takes place on Mars, who would it favor? The stronger earthlings or the weak and pathetic Martians that are on their home field?

    – With the news that a source of water was found on Mars just prior to the release of the movie, how would it change the movie had Watney had this source? Would trying to survive the four years until Ares IV have been a much more realistic goal than it originally was?

    • My thoughts are this:

      1) A fully fledged generation of Martians would likely be taller, have lower bone density, and smaller muscle mass. The reason we have these physical attributes is due directly to Earth’s gravity. Example: early Superman could not fly, he could “leap tall buildings in a single bound”. All of superman’s characteristics were explained in the early series as being due to Krypton’s massive gravitational pull. His bones we dense, his muscles far stronger, his skim had a higher modulus of stress so he could withstand bullets, etc… His genetics had prepared his body to live under massive stresses, therefore when he came to Earth he seemed invincible to us. (see also the John Carter on Mars books/movies, same idea). It wasn’t until they had other superhero’s to contend with in the comic book market that they had to up the anti and make him do stuff that really was superhuman. For more on this topic, look up the book “The Physics of Superhero’s”.

      2) From the above explanation, the Earthers would be victorious!

      3)The source of water on mars is not potable, it can’t be consumed without massive processing because it exists in salt deposits. Watney actually had a very good source of water in his water re-claimer that pulled the humidity out of the air and made it drinkable. So even if it was potable water, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference.

  7. Nice, David! All the 80s fantasy love is great, and for me Legend is at the top.

    Matchstick Men is under appreciated; it’s a great movie. I’ve seen most of Scott’s films with exception of maybe three or four is all. He’s one of my favorite directors for sure.

    • Matchstick Men is criminally underrated. I never hear it discussed anywhere and no one brings it up when discussing Ridley Scott’s filmography. I’m glad it got some love in your lists.

      • I love the film. I just think it is lesser-known, in general, and it is easy to forget that it’s a Ridley Scott film.

        Great practical (nuts and bolts filmmaking) behind the scenes doc on the DVD, by the way.

        • You know, when DVDs first came out and when Blockbuster seemed unstoppable, I used to eat up all the commentary and behind the scenes because I used to keep the movies I rented for as long as I was allowed. If I really liked the movie, I would watch it more than once and then I would move on to the extras. But ever since Blockbuster’s demise and the ease with which one can stream nowadays (on top of the amount of content available), I just don’t take the time to do that anymore. Whenever I hear someone talk about movie commentary though, it makes me feel like I’m really missing out. Maybe one day when I’m retired, I’ll have enough time to :/

  8. Something I find odd:

    There are so many possibilities for stories involving the planets in our solar system, yet most of the time (certainly not all of the time) the same handful of ideas and conventions are used.

    Playing it safe?

    • Good point. My unscientific guess as to “why” is that every other planet in our solar system other than Earth and Mars is just too hostile an environment for a human to be.

      Unless you’re looking for storylines that don’t involve humans. If that’s the case, my thought is that stories involving humans are easier for us humans to relate to, therefore making stories that don’t involve humans more difficult for humans to relate to.

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