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The Martian, Andy Weir’s debut novel, was an exhilarating read. Heaped with exposition, heart, humour and accuracy, The Martian has you rooting for its central character right from the off. Weir created something iconic when he decided to leave Mark Watney alone on the bleak vistas of Mars, so much so, that acclaimed director Ridley Scott adapted the book to what could possibly be the film of the year.
Set in the near future, the Ares III manned mission to Mars goes awry when the crew experience devastation caused by an intense storm. Forced to evacuate the planet, Botanist Watney is struck by flying debris and knocked unconscious. With the belief he is dead by the rest of his crew, Watney is left behind. Alone, and as a result of the accident, he is forced to remove shrapnel from his body in a gut-wrenching scene that results in a self-operating stomach stapling procedure (an image borrowed from Scott’s other recent science fiction film, Prometheus).
The Martian cleverly captures both the sense of loneliness and the narrative achievement of the source material. Sweeping shots of barren deserts prove that Watney is entirely alone on Mars. Interestingly, and despite the vastness of the Red Planet, Ridley’s adaptation has made the entire film feel claustrophobic, adding to the desperation of the character. A strong supporting cast helps to carry this film, but the weight of it lies entirely upon Matt Damon’s shoulders. At this, he excels.
We see Damon hurdle through emotion. At times he is funny, but then desperate, and other times he is emotional – all of which he conveys with aplomb. In order to survive on Mars, Watney has to science the shit out of his limited resources and succeeds in growing potatoes using his own waste as manure.
Despite Watney being alone, the film is never dull. Throughout, he records a series of video logs to maintain his morale – and this serves as a direct link to the audience. These performances are intense and instantly draw you in.
After reading The Martian, it is clear that Weir did his research. Mark Watney has to scavenge the 1997 American roving probe Pathfinder in the hopes of contacting NASA. And after announcing to the world that Watney is dead, Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, must eventually tell everyone they made a mistake. The chills you feel here are real.
Jessica Chastain is of course brilliant as the commander of Ares III, Melissa Lewis, as are Michael Peña and Kata Mara, but their screen time is unfortunately limited. Though, given how captivating Matt Damon is, this can be forgiven.
Likewise, those on Earth at NASA are barely used – in particular Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park, whose role from the novel has been drastically reduced. Despite knowing how this film will pan out, I couldn’t help but spend the majority of the movie waiting for Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson to die (don’t worry, he doesn’t) simply because of Bean’s infamous nature of dying on-screen.
If there is a flaw to the movie, it is a distinct lack of realisation – realisation from Watney that he is indeed alone on a planet with a chance he will never be rescued. This problem recurs in the novel too. Neither Weir nor Scott focus upon that particular emotional impact. I don’t know about you, but if I were in his position, I would crawl into a ball and cry until I died, but this is not conveyed at all on-screen. It is almost as though Watney expected it to happen so he just gets on with it. This is fair enough, but surely even the most strong-willed of people would succumb, especially after a year of solitude?
The Martian has inevitably had comparisons to last year’s science fiction blockbuster Interstellar, but this is where Interstellar excels. Matthew McConaughey brought very real emotion to his character of Cooper – in particular, a scene midway through the film where we are shown a shot of his face crying over recordings of his children back home.
Aside from the daring rescue at the close of The Martian, emotion does not really factor into this film, unfortunately, which means that you root for Watney and Watney alone. The other characters aren’t developed as much, so it’s hard to care for them.
This problem is trivial in comparison to the rest of the movie, however. Comparing it to its source material, The Martian is probably one of the best book to screen adaptations I have seen. Yes, some areas are trimmed, and there is an unnecessary ending segment, but otherwise the movie is stunning.
The rocky deserts of Wadi Rum in Jordan breathtakingly bring Mars to life and Matt Damon brings true conviction to his character.
This is an instant classic.