I’ve always hated when people say that the book is better than the movie. It doesn’t seem to matter how good the movie actually is, people always find some reason to complain. Maybe they left something out, or perhaps a scene was changed or god only know what else. Never mind the fact that they managed to work anywhere from thirty to twelve hundred pages into a roughly two hour movie. Please, feel free to ignore that crucial little detail. Having said all of that, I can’t think of any movie that is a better adaptation of a book than The Martian.
Based on Andy Weir’s outstanding book of the same name, The Martian tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who was inadvertently left for dead when he and his crew were forced to abandon their mission to Mars, after only eighteen days. Mark wakes up to find that he is the now the only person on the entire planet and that his only hope of rescue is surviving almost four years until the next mission arrives on Mars. Needless to say that Mark is basically screwed. Everything he needs to survive is in short supply, including air and water, not to mention food. Once NASA discovers Mark is still alive, the race is on to find a way to ensure he stays alive long enough for a rescue mission to make it to Mars and bring him back home alive. This is of course no easy task, and as expected, there are setback along the way, both on Mars and back on Earth.
I’m honestly not sure where to begin. There is so much that is awesome about this movie, it’s difficult to pick a place to start. However, since I have to pick somewhere, I think the obvious place to start is Matt Damon as Mark Watney. I actually heard that The Martian was going to be a movie starring Damon long before I read the book, and at the time I wasn’t particularly worried. Let’s be fair, Mr. Damon is no slouch when it comes to acting. After reading the book however, I became fairly worried. Damon isn’t really known for playing characters with the dark sense of humor that is a staple of Watney’s personality. Within the first couple minutes of the movie, I knew that my misgivings were completely baseless. Damon hits the character dead on and is everything I could have hoped for in Mark Watney. He manages to be humorous in the face of near certain death, calm and collected when trying to solve one crisis after another and emotional when those brief times arise. It was an overall brilliant performance.
As good as Damon was, the rest of the cast was equally brilliant. Podcast listeners are undoubtedly already aware that I have a soft spot for Jeff Daniels from his work on The Newsroom. Daniels does a wonderful job as NASA director Teddy Sanders, projecting concern for Mark while also being mindful of the entire agency. When I read the book, Donald Glover was not at all what I had envisioned for Rich Purnell, the astrodynamicist that lacked nearly all social skills. Now, however, I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who many geeks know from Serenity, is great as Mars project director Vincent Kapoor. Again, not an actor I would have placed in this role, but an excellent choice, now that I have seen the final product. And hell, I’m just happy to see that Sean Bean survived to the end of a damn movie.
Not only was the film filled with actors that were perfect for their roles, but the screen was constantly graced with stunningly beautiful shots of alien vistas. While I’m certain that portions of these shots were created using CGI, most of them had to be done on location. More importantly, I want to know where these locations are, because they are just astounding. More than anywhere else, this is where Ridley Scott’s directorial abilities stand out. In spite of working in Hollywood for so many years, Scott maintains a very non-American approach to cinematography. Most American films are filled with fast action close up shots, but Ridley knows when to mix things up. Distance shots provide the audience with a sense of exactly how alone Mark truly is on Mars, while up close shots with lots of cuts give a sense of confusion when something unexpectedly and violently occurs. It’s all about using the right shot to convey the right feeling to the audience, which is something Scott has done throughout his entire career.
There is literally nothing about this movie that I didn’t like. Even the very minimal points where the movie deviated from the book were just fine. The largest of these adjustments comes at the end, where the movie provides a wrap up to the story that is a little less open than where the books leaves off. While I had no issues with the way the book ended, I can also understand the desire to give the story a little more finality, and the way it was done does service to the book. In all, the changes were really kept to a minimum, though it certainly helps that the book is only around 300 pages long. Even still, there were plenty of places were further liberties could have been taken, but weren’t.
Even as I write this review, I want to go see the movie again. I am more than willing to shell out my hard earned cash, yet again, just so I can go and enjoy everything that this movie has to offer. If that is not a resounding enough recommendation, I’m not sure what else would be. 5/5 Death Stars