This is the first only-movie review I’ve done on this blog, but I doubt it will be the last. With that in mind, please bear with me as a I work out the format for reviews in this new medium. In this case, The Martian is an adaptation of the novel by Andy Weir of the same name, which I have already reviewed here. It’s going to be impossible for me to discuss the movie without referring to the book, so there’s going to be a fair bit of comparison. I will try to keep the spoilers all below the spoiler warning, so keep an eye on that if you haven’t yet enjoyed the book or movie.
The Martian is a story of survival in an inhospitable environment, and of the positive side of human nature-- the drive to help one another. After Mark is stranded on Mars by teammates who think he was killed, he is determined to use his formidable skills to survive until a rescue is mounted. On the other side, once Earth learns that Mark is alive on Mars, it will take the work of many to try to find a way to reach him before his time runs out. This sets up a intense, but upbeat, story with a focus on problem-solving and scientific knowledge. It’s lighter tone and nerdy humor might make it lack some of the urgency of other recent space-survival stories, like Gravity, but that also sets it apart as a very different filmgoing experience.
I also enjoyed coming from the novel to this movie adaptation. It’s always fun to see a book you liked represented in a visual medium, and in this case I think it really did the novel justice. The movie played to its strengths, with beautiful scenes of Mars, as well as interesting designs for the spaceship, rover, and Mars habitat. The cast was impressive as well, and I think Matt Damon in particular gave an excellent performance as Mark Watney. His (understandable, given the situation) profanity was dialed down a bit, but I think that was a good idea. Spoken profanity would have been a lot more jarring than it was as written. A number of subplots had to be cut out to make this even a roughly 2 and a half hour movie, but I think that they were able to keep true to the spirit of the story.
Now I’ll have some spoilers about specific scenes and the ending (book/movie). Stop here to avoid them!
However, some of the things they chose to leave out or change actually did cause the story to make a little less sense than it did in the novel. In this case, I think people who have previously read the novel have an advantage, since they know what exactly was cut and how it affects the story. For instance, the movie put a lot of emphasis on the ‘space pirate’ joke, but they removed the part where he lost contact with NASA. In the book, he was a ‘pirate’ because he couldn’t ask permission until he had re-established contact with NASA using the MAV, but in the movie he was acting per NASA’s direct instructions. This and a couple of other jokes negated by other scenes made me wonder if the editing was a little rushed.
The changes to Mark’s climactic rescue scene also seemed to depart from the novel in a way that made less sense. In terms of crafting a movie, I get why it was cool for Lewis to go out on the EVA to finally bring him to the safety of the ship. However, Beck was the one who was prepared for this task. In universe, it didn’t really make sense for her to interrupt an already precarious mission at the last second to take on a role she hadn’t prepared for. I think that it would have been better if they had just arranged for that to be her role in the rescue from the beginning. In the end, while I really liked the movie as a new medium in which to see a story I had enjoyed, I think the novel still stands stronger than its adaptation. Even so, I think this is probably the most entertaining science fiction film I’ve seen yet this year!