Short Attention Span Review™
The Martian, starring Matt Damon, is a science fiction drama/thriller about the survival of one astronaut left for dead. Though it is mostly true to the novel, there are differences. The good news is these differences have almost no impact on the effectiveness of the storytelling. Fans of the book and fans of science fiction cinema should love the ride created by Andy Weir and Ridley Scott. Highly recommended!
Neal SaysIt’s not often that we, as moviegoers, are given science fiction offerings at the box office. It’s even more infrequent that a science fiction movie is helmed by a quality director. And it’s even FURTHER inconceivable that we get a proper translation from book to screen. With The Martian fans get a trifecta of win. Quality science fiction, directed by the great Ridley Scott, based on the wildly popular book by Andy Weir.
The Martian is 144 minutes of visionary science fiction that’s heavy on science and wisecracking humor from the lead character Mark Whatney (Matt Damon), a botanist/mechanical engineer who suddenly finds himself left for dead on Mars. While The Martian borrows heavily from (and in some ways parallel) such movies as Red Planet, Castaway, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and Apollo 13, it’s wholly entertaining and thrilling.
But make no mistake. This is no Michael Bay thrill-fest lousy with explosions and horrible acting. The Martian is a tense thriller about one man’s year and a half endeavor to survive in the most inhospitable environment conceivable, and NASA’s efforts to keep him alive and mount a rescue.
Now some of you who’ve read the book are asking: But I know everything that happens, I know how it ends, will I still like it!? Yes, no doubt. The movie is very faithful to the novel with a handful of changes for dramatic, and dare I say, political correct (and monetary) reasons. More on this later. The rest of you are asking: But I haven’t read the book, will I like it!? Yes, probably more than those who’ve read the book (myself included).
Amy SaysOkay, Neal, this is a topic on which we will have to agree to disagree. Yes, I enjoyed the film. And, yes, I agree that people who have not read the novel are going to enjoy the movie much more than I did. Yet, the book was still better.
The book gives us a front-row seat to Watney’s problem-solving thought process. From the moment he is stranded on Mars, the planet is trying to kill him! Yet, his humor, tenacity, and intellect help him overcome some horrible obstacles. Perhaps you found the techno-babble boring because you are an engineer who knows it all (I do not claim to know it all. :-p ~Editor), but I thought it was fascinating. In fact, if the book didn’t contain so much swearing, I would make it required reading for my Exploring Computer Science class! Good news for the faint of heart, the film-version of Watney may be a space pirate, but he only throws out the f-bomb twice near the beginning of the film. He does mouth and write it later, but you can’t hear or see it. Frankly, the language doesn’t bother me at all; I would be swearing up a Martian-sandstorm if Mars kept trying to kill me!
One other thing we are REALLY going to have to disagree upon is the idea that the film only had “a handful of changes.” What?! We read the same book, right? Clearly, I was more annoyed and distracted by the changes than you were. I agree that some things had to be left out for timing purposes, but I found it really distracting while watching the movie. Plus, don’t even get me started about a couple of things they ADDED near the end of the movie! I will admit to liking the final scene which was not in the book. It might have made a nice epilogue, but I also really enjoyed the final sentence in the novel, so I’m glad we get both versions of the story.
Now two changes that rubbed me a little bit where changing the NASA scientific lead from an Indian named Venkat Kapoor, to an African American named Vincent Kapoor. Why and why? I usually don’t get bothered by this but I thought it was a pointless change. Surely they could have found an Indian actor, and surely they could have left the character’s name Venkat even with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing the role. Also, the Chinese space agency was portrayed as absolutely selfless by scrubbing one of their missions and donating the use of their booster to NASA. In the book the Chinese basically all but demand that one of their astronauts have a seat on a future Ares mission. That’s about how I would expect a world government to act. This is eluded to in the movie credits, but if you haven’t read the book or didn’t notice the one second shot of a Chinese astronaut strapped into a seat of a future mission then you wouldn’t make that connection. The movie version smacks of portraying the Chinese in a noble light because Hollywood films do BIG business in China these days. There are many other small inconsistencies between the book and the film, but they aren’t really worth delving on. Even the two I described above aren’t that big of a deal, but I thought I’d mention them.
Amy, during the process of writing this short, rambling review, I’ve determined that I actually like the movie better than the book. And here’s why. Many portions of the book are stuffed with dry, scientific sections that read, to me, like a recipe card or an engineering process. I like problem solving, but not to the detriment of telling a story. I dearly wanted to skip over pages and pages of how Watney hooked up the inverter to the photonic transducers and hacked the synergy matrix to extract the . . . zzzZZZZzzzzz . . . oh sorry, the techno-babble knocked me out for a second there.
Also, the book suffers from pacing. 350 pages of Watney growing potatoes, extracting water, fixing this, destroying that, swearing like a pirate . . . then BAM! the last 10 pages are a flurry to resolution. I didn’t get that feeling with the movie. I still like the book, I just think the movie is a bit more effective storytelling.
Regardless, The Martian . . . go see it. You can easily guess how it ends, but it’s still a fun ride.
Okay, one more thing that really annoyed me before I let you know what I liked about the movie. As you know, I’m a crier. I cry when I’m happy, sad, angry, hungry–heck, I sometimes make myself cry just to moisten my contacts–I love a good cry. So, why did Ridley Scott rob me of that joy by cutting the scene with Watney’s parents? Clearly, Scott hates me as much as Mars hates Watney, but I’m not going to cry about it.
So, here’s what I really liked about the film . . . everything else! All of the actors did a fantastic job of portraying the characters from the novel. In one of your earlier posts, you expressed concern about Matt Damon’s ability to pull off the role, but I thought he was a great choice. Technically, he may be a little old for this part, but he has proven track record of great comedic timing, and he delivered. The movie didn’t feel long to me at all, because I was engaged in every scene . . . even when I was inwardly complaining about what was left out from the book.
Also, I wasn’t bothered by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, perhaps he was the best actor for the job. This was definitely a much different character than he played in Serenity! Anyway, I doubt it was a political statement as this is the type of movie that lends itself to world-wide casting since there is so much diversity at NASA. On an only-slightly-related side note, I loved the costume design and casting for the JPL crew. It was a great contrast between the rest of the NASA employees. Also, most of the JPL actors didn’t have lines, but they really created some great characters and a sense of community.
I thought the visual effects were really stunning in this film, as well. They helped make the Red Planet a character which enhanced the dramatic man versus nature story. Even though some of the obstacles she put in Watney’s way were left out of the movie, the audience still gets excited when he dons his space-pirate costume and kicks Mars right in the Schiaparelli.
Even with all my complaining about the missing elements from the book, I do think this is a great movie and deserves a view in the theatre.