The Martian (2015)
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: Drew Goddard
Rating: PG-13 (US) Running Time: 2 hr 21 min
“No,” is usually my answer when I’m asked, “did you read the book?” Because I believe it spoils the movie going experience. Why would you want to walk into the theater with that kind of baggage? With that kind of expectation. “The book was better”, is usually what everyone says, because it’s nearly always true. As it is with The Martian, and even though I enjoyed the film, I couldn’t help wonder how much more I would have appreciated it, if I hadn’t read Andy Weir’s excellent book.
Your average 2 hour adaptation isn’t going to have the time to cover all the source material’s content. All we can hope for is a logical translation of the source material. Something that stays true to the themes and characters in the story, and if it does stray, have a bloody good reason for doing so.
In the case of The Martian, I would say Drew Goddard’s screenplay is mostly a faithful adaptation of Andy Weir’s superb book. It includes some of the well researched science, but not so much that it loses its movie going audience. Turning a hard science fiction novel into a great adventure film with broad appeal.
All the principle characters from the novel make it into the movie, as does most of the important turning points in the plot. The book’s themes covering human ingenuity, science and cooperation successfully make it into the film, as does Andy Weir’s great sense of humor. So yes, it’s faithful, but not brave.
Film suits a simpler narrative, and works best when it develops a smaller number of elements and characters. 2013’s Gravity is a great example of this, as is 1997’s Contact, which wisely reduced the number of lead players in Carl Segan’s novel from 5 to 1. By being faithful to the novel, The Martian spreads itself a little thin as it jumps between Earth, Mars and the Hermes space craft commanded by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). Introducing the audience to a plethora of characters played by notable actors, and not giving them enough screen time to develop into people we can really care about. This also goes for Mark Watney (Matt Damon), whose role is reduced in the film version of this story, and that ultimately hurts the emotional histrionics synonymous with movies like this.
Knowing what I know now, I would watch the film, and then read the book. Because you’d go from a good experience, to a great one. The Martian isn’t science heavy, and should appeal to anyone who appreciates stories about human ingenuity. The movie is rated PG-13 for mild language and brief nudity.
Ridley Scott is a great visual director, and even his bad films look fantastic. The Martian looks great, and is best enjoyed in the movie theater.
Matt Damon’s performance is superb, and I wish he had been given more screen time.