Andy Weir’s debut novel The Martian was quite the revelation to me. After hearing the hype and then talks of it becoming a movie I thought I had better check it out. With a story that boils down to Robinson Crusoe mashed up with Apollo 13 and written in a style similar to a Michael Crichton techno thriller, it could have gone a whole lot sideways. But Weir delivers a cracking adventure with such a strong positive outlook thanks mainly to its hero Mark Watney, that it is hard not to enjoy the tale from start to finish. It’s the kind of story that seems perfect for a movie… and it is.
After missing out on the chance to see Ridley Scott’s film at the cinemas last year, I finally got my chance with the Blu-ray released a few months ago. Though not quite the same as sitting in front of a giant screen with a crowd of people, it can still work nicely in a quiet home with the lights turned down and the speakers turned up. Plus it’s not as embarrassing wearing 3D glasses over your prescriptions when you’re on your own.
In the film Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a crew member of a Mars mission run by a NASA of the future. During a violent storm on the planet’s surface, the mission is abandoned and the crew are forced to evacuate. Before they can reach their vessel, Watney is hit by debris and lost, assumed dead. The remaining crewmembers leave Mars, not knowing he survived. As comes to terms with his predicament, he puts his talents to use and starts coming up with solutions so he can have a fighting chance at survival.
Considering Damon had another star turn prior to this via a cameo in a little movie called Interstellar, you might be thinking we would be seeing more of the same from him but I can happily say the characters are miles apart. What he’s helped create here is the sort of guy you’ll be cheering for throughout the whole film and considering he also has to carry much of the film solo, it’s a brilliant job that deserves the kudos he’s received.
Backing him up include Interstellar‘s Jessica Chastain who is awesome as the captain who accidentally left him behind, Chiwetal Ejiofor as NASA’s Mars mission director and Jeff Daniels as NASA’s Administrator. There’s a pile of other actors that you’ll no doubt recognise too and all do a great job with what little time they have onscreen.
A major change in the film to the book that attracted some criticism is with Watney’s internal monologues being replaced with video log entries. I personally think it works here because not only are there aspects of the story it helps to explain but it also gives Matt Damon an opportunity to inject some personality into Watney’s character beyond just actions that might otherwise be lost. And since there’s no volleyball for him to talk to here and with him being a scientist, recording his findings does seem like a sensible thing to do.
Visually, the movie really does a great job of highlighting vast loneliness Watney is experiencing with some great scenery. Watching it in 3D certainly adds a lot of impressive depth to these moments but it’ll still deliver the goods if you see the 2D version. The design of the habitats, suits and vehicles are familiar and also detailed in a way that they look like things that we might just be able to make now or soon.
For what sounds like on paper to be a disaster movie (well, it is), it stays true to the source material and is upbeat in a way that might be a contradiction to the situation but does wonders for keeping people invested in the characters you are supposed to care about. Pop culture references and a lot of ’70s disco also help to make you feel comfortable in this strange and dangerous place by injecting a little bit of additional humour to the story.
That’s not to say there aren’t dramatic moments – one particular event when everything goes wrong during an explosion hits home harder when you see Watney begin to crack under the pressure. It’s played out in silence but his face and actions say it all.
Though the science may seem complicated and the story farfetched, for better or worse it is a simple story with a sharp focus on the goal. You’re not having to put up with an unnecessary side story about the hero’s past or evil corporate manipulations putting dollars above lives… what you have is a smart guy in a REALLY bad spot who is unwilling to just give up and the people back home are all there ready to give their best to help him do it. In the end it makes you hope that perhaps we all could really be like that and make a difference.
The more I watch the movie, the more I’m finding The Martian hits the notes I like when it comes to a good, old fashioned, crowd pleaser of an adventure. Seeing that I’m also a massive fan of Apollo 13, this is an easy like for me.
The Martian is out now.