Oh boy, Robinson Crusoe has nothing on this guy. At least he was stuck on an island in the ocean, not an island in space. Also, he had company. Also, that book may be a little racist. I don’t know, it’s been a while since I read it. Besides most people describe The Martian as a cross between Apollo 13 and Cast Away which, now that I think about it is a far more apt comparison.
That comparison tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the movie. Mark Watney, an American astronaut, is left for dead on Mars after a series of unfortunate events. The rest of the crew evacuate not knowing that he survived through a series of fortunate events.
Now the story could have been entirely Cast Away in Space! But Andy Weir wisely took a better option. He decided to split his time between Mark Watney on Mars, the rest of his crew in space and the team at NASA trying to figure out a way to keep him alive. The Martian is actually about why science is awesome and what we can achieve as a species. That its hard sci-fi makes it that much more juicy.
So yes, the book is great. What about the movie?
I must confess I went into the theatre with high expectations. Not only because I read the book, but also because I read a lot of really good to great reviews. So, I was pumped up going in.
On a technical level the movie is great. Like all of Ridley Scott’s films, The Martian looks beautiful. From the opening shot of Martian sunrise to the very end it looks breathtaking. He does a great job making Mars look as barren and dead and lonely as it really is while infusing it with some kind of personality. Every shot of the planet makes you scan the whole frame to see if there’s anything moving in the distance. It’s kind of an eerie place.
The film follows the book quite closely (with some not-so-minor changes/additions) and unfolds pretty much the same way. It was riveting and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and left the theatre feeling a little underwhelmed. What happened?
I thought about what happened and I realised that one of the things in the book that I found most interesting was missing. It was the constant insight into Mark Watney. While the movie tries its best to approximate that by having Mark Watney think out loud and keep regular vlogs, it wasn’t enough.
Of course, I can’t fault the filmmakers for that. You sacrifice certain things when you adapt something from one medium to another. Trying to give insight into the character’s psyche is easy enough in a book, but in a movie that’s pretty complex. You could make a whole movie out of it. And they did make a movie out of it. Inside Out was a great film wasn’t it?
Apart from the breathtaking beauty of the whole thing, the really good acting, score, visual effects and attention to detail the movie didn’t offer anything else in exchange for the inner monologue. Wait, what was I complaining about again?
This is difficult. It’s not a bad film, it’s a pretty good film. If I hadn’t read the book I might have said it’s a great film. It certainly has the makings of one. I certainly like the way it handles science. It’s not the “space is scary, so we shouldn’t go” of Gravity (which I really liked). It’s not the “space is weird, science can’t do much, the world revolves around love” of Interstellar (which I kinda liked). It doesn’t explain things just to show how much research they did and leaves some things for the viewers (something Ridley Scott seems to be pretty good at). It also doesn’t try to force a character arc on anyone.
This is not about any of that. This is about human ingenuity, international cooperation, and the need for duct tape.
The Martian is the closest film to capture the spirit of Star Trek (at least as I understand it). It’s about the hope that space exploration and research represents even when it goes slightly off course.
The Martian is a pretty good film that will be fantastic to most. But I don’t regret reading the book first.
I just realised that makes me sound like a snob.