Ridley Scott goes back to the future, a familiar destination for him, and returns in fine shape in The Martian. Although technically science fiction by virtue of its being largely set on a neighboring planet, this smartly made adaptation of Andy Weir’s best-selling novel is more realistic in its attention to detail than many films set in the present, giving the story the feel of an adventure that could happen the day after tomorrow.

Scott has famously been up in space before, thrillingly in Alien, far less so in Prometheus (a sequel to which he is currently preparing). This time, he’s telling a survival story, pure and simple, of an American astronaut named Mark Watney, thought to be dead, who’s left behind on Mars when an enormous storm compels his five fellow crew members to hastily cut short their extra-planetary visit. It’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but without the monkey and aliens.

When Mark Watney (Matt Damon) regains consciousness, he quickly assesses the situation: He’s millions of miles from home and, based on the food supply, concludes that he’s got a month to live.

Ultimately it comes down to the willingness of Mark’s astronaut colleagues to place themselves at great risk by attempting a rescue attempt, a decision that raises the provocative moral dilemma of whether it’s correct to put five lives at great risk for saving one life. The director and screenwriter downplay the conventional melodrama inherent in the situation in favor of emphasizing how practical problems should be addressed with rational responses.

There is also a insinuation that the meticulous sense of resourcefulness. In significant measure due to his character’s mordant humor, Damon provides comfortable company during the long stretches when he’s onscreen alone, and the actor’s physicality makes Mark’s capability entirely credible.