Released in 2015 The Martian is based on the novel of the same name written by Andy Weir and concerns a lone astronaut surviving on Mars after his crew inadvertently left him behind during an emergency evacuation situation. Sitting in the director’s chair is Ridley Scott with Matt Damon taking on the role of Mars’ only inhabitant Mark Watney.
Ridley Scott is a director that at one time I held up in very high regard as he was the man behind Alien and Gladiator, both of which were films that were very impressive and more importantly in the case of the former I loved and the latter I liked. However in recent years as far as I am concerned his work has lost its edge with crap films coming out with his name attached as the man directing. Robin Hood and of course the woefully bad Prometheus effectively shattered what faith I had in him. Now as you know (if you’ve read my review of it) I read the book of The Martian a while ago and could barely put it down, I read to the small hours of the morning, even after promising myself I would read just one more chapter before doing something else. So when I heard a film was coming out I was excited, then I heard Ridley Scott was directing it, and my excitement was replaced by apprehension.
So was The Martian another Alien or another Prometheus…??
I will naturally explain but first what is happening on the Red Planet??
The crew of the Aeries III are on Sol 18 of their 31 Sol expedition to Mars, and amongst them is astronaut Mark Watney (Damon). NASA alert the crew to an approaching dust storm and commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) decides to scrub the mission and return to their ship in orbit. As the crew approach their escape vehicle in the violent storm Watney is hit by flying debris, and lost in the zero visibility of the storm. The last telemetry on his suit is that there are no signs of life, so with the storm worsening the rest of the crew leave their dead comrade behind.
Watney regains consciousness later to find that not only has he managed to survive because his own blood effectively acted as an adhesive and filled the hole in his suit with the piece of debris still in him, but he is alone on Mars, no one knows he is alive and he has no means of contacting Earth. Watney decides that he is not going to die alone on Mars so organises his supplies in order to survive until the next manned mission arrives in four years time.
Meanwhile on Earth, weeks pass and the world mourns Watney’s death, only for satellite planner Mindy Park to realise that Watney is alive on Mars. As news of his survival spreads the finest minds NASA has to offer come together to try and find a way of getting to him before his supplies run out and he starves to death.
The rest of the crew are travelling back to Earth not realising that Mark is alive, and when they learn the truth they are given a chance to retrieve their lost crewmate but the option is dangerous and may result in the deaths of all of them.
Two things that I had my doubts about when I learned the book I really enjoyed was going to be made into a film, the first was that Ridley Scott was directing, and the second was that Matt Damon was to play Watney. I was apprehensive about the direction because Scott has really lost his way with his recent projects and when I was reading about Watney, Matt Damon was not the actor I would have thought could bring Watney’s tongue-in-cheek, can do attitude and laughing in the face of adversity personality over on film. I have nothing against Damon as an actor but he would not have been my first choice for the role, if it had been me, Ryan Reynolds playing Ryan Reynolds would have been a better choice.
Thankfully my apprehension was misplaced…Matt Damon manages to capture the charm and more importantly the personality to Watney very well. One man’s fight to survive on a planet where any one of a million things going wrong could result in his death could be very gritty, and depressing but in the book Watney dealt with his situation without cracking up. Damon manages to do the same. Like the book he records audio logs so is effectively “talking” to the audience but this technique works because he is making logs to record what happened in the event he does not survive.
The supporting actors are also very well cast with Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Kristen Wiig leading from the front as the people on Earth who learn of Watney’s survival and then work tirelessly to bring him home. Plus the likes of Michael Peña as Rick Martinez, the pilot of the Hermes is also a joy as one of the members of the crew that learn of their friend’s survival and are given the dangerous opportunity to rescue him.
Naturally, there is a tonne of stuff that is missed from the book but enough of the book makes the transition from page to film. It is not uncommon for book-to-film adaptations to miss key details that are plot holes to people who haven’t read the book, like Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban who can read the Marauders Map, but Snape can’t. If you’ve read the book you know the reason why but in the film it is not explained. However, in The Martian there is not a single time that something happened in the film that wasn’t explained that was explained in the book. Personally I think the changes made serve the film well and might have killed the pacing of the film if they had been left in.
Comparisons to the book are inevitable and whilst the book was better in my opinion it was only because the nature of a book means that there is a lot more that can be done with it. The reader is going to be around a third (at least) of the way through the book before anyone on Earth realises that Watney is alive. In the film this happens much faster. Still if the film had included everything in the book then it probably would have clicked in at five or six hours long which certainly would not have worked in its favour.
This film has done a lot to restore my faith in Ridley Scott, I haven’t completely forgiven him for Prometheus but perhaps this is the first of many strong steps that will return him to the form he once had.
Matt Damon has also proven that he can do effectively a one-man-show film and demonstrates to me that in the past I perhaps have not been giving him enough credit. The film is very well done, it follows the book closely enough but knows when to step away and move things along for the sake of keeping the audience interested.
My advice is this, read the book, then watch the film, or, watch the film then read the book, but the two things you need to take away from this review are that both are worth your time and even if you aren’t a fan of Matt Damon or have had your faith in Ridley Scott challenged over the last few years The Martian will go a long way to restoring your confidence in him.
I am giving The Martian a nice Thumbs Up because it does a lot of things right and knows when to lean away from the book and what will transition well from page to screen.
8/10 – The book is better in my opinion, but if you aren’t familiar with the book this is still a really good film that boasts a great cast, a charismatic leading man, and is a strong step towards a director reclaiming his former glory.