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Ridley Scott’s latest take on the sci-fi genre positions audiences in an alternative not-so distant future where NASA hasn’t abandoned the idea of exploration and colonization on Mars. A freak storm escalates, forcing a team to pull up stakes and head off sooner than expected. During the hurried escape, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets swept away and is presumed dead. Team leader Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) shoulders the burden of responsibility while back at home, and NASA chief Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) solemnly leads a period of mourning.

That is, until the mission control crew on Earth discovers that Watney miraculously survived the storm and, due to his expertise in botany and general ability to — you know — “science the shit” out of things, figured out a way to keep himself alive while plans get under way to bring him back to Earth. Ingenuity, both on Mars and on Earth, leads the way, and Scott’s film celebrates the spirit with the bubbly enthusiasm of a high school pep squad and his usual sure-handed technical mastery we’ve come to expect from him. Intriguingly, even in 3-D, the visual virtuosity disappears behind the escalating human stakes. The Martian never loses sight of the fact that it is about a supreme test of will and intelligence and human triumph. (PG-13) Grade: A