Back when I read Andy Weir’s great novel the Martian, I thought about holding off one it until the movie came out, and do a Film Library article on it, but after reading the novel I was too excited to write about it to wait. And as I’ve already written about, I loved the book, and pretty much instantly became worried about the upcoming film version. The trailer looked pretty solid, but it’s so easy to be tricked by a trailer, so I had my worries. It could have easily leeched out the humor, or amped up the action to make it more “exciting, or even do something to make it even more emotional, like give Watney a wife and kid or something, which would have been the worst possibility. Hollywood really loves to mess with source material novels to make them more universally acceptable, which usually just makes them bland and uninteresting, and it would have been a real shame if they somehow took the novelty and originality of the novel out of the movie. And then there’s the fact that it was being directed by Ridley Scott…who hasn’t made a movie I’ve enjoyed since…holy shit, Blade Runner? The Counselor wasn’t bad, but it was kind of a mess, and most of his other stuff I’ve either been ambivalent towards, or actively disliked. So that wasn’t a huge source of confidence. But I went into the movie with an open mind, hoping not to pick it apart for deviations and lackluster changes.
And you know what? This movie is amazing. All of my fears were completely without merit. It was an amazing adaptation or an amazing novel that condensed some things for the viewer and the runtime, and even removed some things that in retrospect, were kind of unneeded. I know I usually write these articles by just describing the plots and making comments and thoughts as I go, but it seems a little redundant for this article, since it’s an incredibly accurate retelling of the novel, and I’ve already gone into detail about the story in that article. It still follows the same story, a manned mission to Mars is cut short by a dust storm that leads to the crew leaving botanist Mark Watney stranded on the planet. He then struggles to survive, and eventually gets in touch with NASA, and after a bunch of crazy problems, his fellow astronauts come back to get him, and he blasts off the planet to meet them, and they head home. It was impressive how well they translated the novel to the screen, bringing Andy Weir’s great dialogue and plotting to life. They removed some things that weren’t overly necessary, like taking out the segment where Watney loses contact with Mars by destroying the old rover, only to just get back in contact with them shortly after, or the last little disaster where he flips the rover. It streamlined the few rough patches that were in the story, and kept it a tightly paced flick.
Matt Damon was terrific as Mark Watney, lending a lot of natural comedic timing that really worked great. Now, when I read the book, I kind of assumed all of Wantey’s logs were written, probably because I was reading them, and the movie’s change to video recordings was great, changing the story from a fascinating blog, to a fascinating vlog. The movie did get rid of some of the sciency techno-babble, which I did find super entertaining in the novel, but kept just enough to really explain what Watney was doing throughout the movie, even though it seemed stranger in the film having him just wander around the Hab, babbling to himself. It really kept the wit and humor of the novel, keeping it from being like, the bleakest film of the year. Drew Goddard, who I like quite a it, really did a great job with the screenplay, and Ridely Scott directed it very well, making the little hilarious recordings shine, and looking at the absolute desolation and solitude of the planet pop. I loved that near the end of the film when Watney heads off to the MAV, the cinematography starts to become a Western, with Watney’s rover rolling through sandy canyons that started to evoke John Ford films. And man was the music great. One of my favorite little tidbits from the novel was that Watney got stuck with disco as his only music on the planet, and their choices for songs was perfect, and Damon’s reactions to his growing Stockholm Syndrome with the music was terrific.
But the big draw of the film is probably the acting, because everyone nailed it. Matt Damon was surprisingly funny, and gave a genuinely moving performance. The always amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor was, no surprise, amazing as the role of Vincent Kapoor (Venkat Kapoor in the novel), the NASA executive closest involved in the push to get Watney home. All of the other astronauts, though their roles were slightly dominished from the novel, put in great work, and really came across as a tightly knit little community, as they should. Donald Glover was a little odd, seemingly playing the Abed role from Community more than anything, but cast was otherwise tremendous.
The final thing I want to mention in this article was how wonderfully optimistic I found the film, which was certainly a prevailing aspect of the novel, but seeing scenes in live action really brought it out. Not only do we see Mark Watney succeed after all of his continuing catastrophes, it’s also a wonderfully optimistic piece about space travel, and science in general. There’s a line in the movie, which I believe was also in the book, about how when things go wrong with the space program, people get scared to try, and that’s not what they want, they want people to always have an interest in exploring, and pushing the boundaries. And in the end, the whole world is brought together in the quest to bring Mark Watney together, even having the Chinese space program and NASA joining forces. It really just reminds me how pretty much every sci-fi series, Star Trek in particular, always has the space-faring civilization be a unified planet. And man does that put the fiction in science fiction, because we are still a long way off of having anything even resembling a peaceful world, and we probably won’t be getting to the stars anytime soon. But you can just see the Martian, and feel the desire for everyone to just put aside their petty differences, and get something amazing accomplished, even if it’s just bringing one man home.
The Martian was written by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott, and was distributed by 20th Century Fox, 2015
Categories: Reel Talk