Disclaimer: With The Martian being an adaptation of a highly successful novel, I find it appropriate to voice my opinion on the accuracy of big-screen adaptations. Novels and films are two very different mediums, and should always be seen as such. If a favorite moment, dialogue exchange, or character has been left out of the movie adaptation, there is usually a reason for it. Unfortunately the two mediums have different run-time and budget expectations, which leaves studios, writers, and directors to the difficult task of deciding what to drop. In my opinion, it isn’t fair to hold writers and directors responsible for not wanting to put out a 6-hour long, detail-oriented film. The two are always going to be different and hopes and expectations will almost always be dashed. Don’t get so caught up in the differences, and instead sit back and enjoy the ride for what it is. The novel will always be there for you to enjoy, and the film will always be there for others to enjoy. No harm, no foul.
The Martian (2015)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Drew Goddard (based on The Martian by Andy Weir)
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover
It seems Ridley Scott is at his utmost best when dealing with science fiction and space-themed films, and that is only furthered by The Martian, his latest directorial effort. After disasters (or just sheer mediocrity) like The Counsellor and Robin Hood, I’m sure Ridley Scott is sleeping easily with how well-received his new space thriller has been. The film chronicles the journey of NASA astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (played wonderfully by Matt Damon) after he is marooned and presumed dead on Mars after a vicious storm on the planet’s surface. Back on Earth, NASA quickly figures out that Watney is still alive, but with his team on their way back to Earth there’s little to no hope of recovering the botanist. Mark Watney must put his survival skills to the test in order to farm food on the unlivable and un-colonized red planet if he hopes to live to see the next NASA Mars mission – a short four years away.
Having read the novel in the lead-up to The Martian’s release, I can with authority say that the film is incredibly accurate and respectful to the novel, and sticklers for that kind of thing will be very pleasantly surprised with the results. As with every novel-to-film adaptation in the hundred-plus year history of the movies, there are both major and minor changes to the story and characters, but these all serve to make the movie much more audience and screen-friendly. The scientific nature of the novel is still there, the quirkiness and sarcasm of Damon’s Mark Watney is still in full force, and all the lovable side characters are still every bit as compelling as they are in Andy Weir’s terrific science fiction work. As for the actual technical side of the film, the visuals in The Martian are for the most part absolutely astounding, and Ridley Scott directs those visuals and action like few other established directors can. Matt Damon’s performance is very believable and probably my biggest takeaway from the film; he showed the world once again why he’s been a staple of big budget Hollywood cinema for well over a decade. Damon’s mannerisms and dialogue throughout the film is always delivered with a layer of sarcasm and self-awareness, but thankfully it never breaks your immersion in the film. Damon’s terrific and always fun performance is backed up by an absolutely stacked ensemble cast, featuring Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Michael Pena among others on the Ares III, the ship travelling back to Earth, and Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover on the ground at NASA, all of whom deliver more than serviceable performances in the small roles they all play.
Unfortunately there are some problems with The Martian, despite everything it has going for it. I am by no means a critic of 3D films, as I find the technology to be highly immersive in the technology’s best moments. This immersion never really happens in The Martian, instead serving no real purpose in the film; it’s never distracting nor does it take away from the film itself, but it also doesn’t seem to serve an explicit purpose. The film’s script by writer Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) also features a fair bit of pandering to the film’s wide audience (which the novel does a fair bit of as well), with over-the-top references to Lord of the Rings and Iron Man among other pop-culture staples. Instead of being subtle and clever, these references are completely out-of-place and the delivery of these pandering exchanges of dialogue pulled me out of the film for brief moments. My last gripe with The Martian comes from the last ten minutes or so (no spoilers, I promise), where the visuals become extremely awkward and clunky, a feat that other recent space epics like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar managed to overcome. Luckily the scene in question is rather brief, so it’s not a major complaint with the film. There is also an unnecessary and very ham-fisted ending tacked onto the film, which left me writhing in my seat. There were opportunities to finish the film on a perfect note, but instead it’s dragged on for five or so minutes that the run-time absolutely doesn’t need.
With all this said, I very much enjoyed both the film adaptation and Andy Weir’s novel of The Martian. The visuals are consistently top-notch, the performances are fun and compelling, and the writing is mostly very clever – if a little too comedic – leading to a highly enjoyable big screen experience for all audiences. Is The Martian a major contender for awards season? Probably not, but it’s a hell of a ride and there’s a lot to admire about the picture. If you’re looking for thrilling action and adventure with a great cast and a snappy script, Ridley Scott’s impressive The Martian is absolutely the film for you. Recommended.