I’m in the interesting position of having read the book and seen the movie. Sometimes this can be a bad thing when the movie alters the story of the book so much that it ruins the experience. However, this wasn’t the case with The Martian. While some things were changed, the story remained the same.
Matt Damon shines here in the role of Mark Watney, a scientist on a manned mission to Mars that is ultimately stranded on the planet. His crew Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Rick Martinez (Michael Pena), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Chris Beck (Sabastian Stan), and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) leave Mars in a hurry when a storm threatens their lives. Watney is thought dead after an accident and left alone with no way to get home.
It’s a heavy situation when you think about it. Watney is not only alone but the only living thing on an entire planet. The only hope he can get is about 140 million miles away and the planet he is currently on has nothing to offer him other than what his crew brought with them. The movie does a good job of not only demonstrating how drastic a problem Watney is in but also the upbeat (and in many ways sarcastic) way he approaches this problem. You can’t help but root for Watney has he, for the most part, keeps a smile on his face in a situation where most of us would buckle under the pressure.
I want to point out one particular scene in the beginning of the film that really demonstrates Matt Damon’s acting skills. After Watney stumbles into the habitation module after waking injured on the Martian surface, he has to remove a piece of metal that has been rammed into his abdomen. Laying on the medical table he performs the extraction with tweezers and staples the wound shut. In most movies I’ve seen where an actor is in pain they still end up looking pretty tough about it. Damon however looked more realistic in a situation like this showing real agony but also determination to keep it together. It was a simple scene that was elevated by complex acting.
While Watney is the focal point of the story were also shown what’s going on at NASA and how they are trying to rescue Watney. We also see the rest of the crew as they are on their way back to Earth while this is all happening. I felt the “Earth scenes” were great and added tension and depth to the story. These scenes also followed the book very closely which was great to watch. While the crew scenes were great with solid acting and interesting dialogue I would have liked to see a bit more character development however in the film’s defense there really wasn’t much more in the book either.
The movie is a series of problems that Watney has to solve. The overall problem would of course be leaving Mars however he takes each smaller goal one step at a time. From figuring out how to grow potatoes in Martian soil, to creating his own water supply out of rocket fuel, to reestablishing communication with NASA using a broken probe from 1997, it’s a demonstration of ingenuity and determination from the character and extremely fun to watch. Watney’s scenes, much like the novel, are structured like mission logs with Damon providing commentary of what he’s doing and sometimes recording video summarizing his plans. It’s an interesting way to film a movie as well as a very efficient way to explain some of the science behind his actions without slowing down the story.
Speaking of science, there is a lot of it. This is not a science fiction story per say but instead a story that could exists in our own reality if not a couple decades in the future. The mission itself is very similar to plans NASA has worked out before and the technology that is used is either very realistic or actually exists. This elevates the film in many ways and makes it that much more believable.
There were a few things I disliked however they weren’t game changers and would only have been noticed by someone who had read the book. For obvious reasons the explanation behind some of Watney’s science were reduced or cut out completely. For example, the modifications Watney made to his rover for a long journey were glossed over in the film while the novel went into great detail of how what he was doing was going to work. The overall ideas of the film are directly pulled from the book, as well as the sequence of events and a lot of the dialogue so there isn’t much room to complain. The two biggest changes to the story were the removal of a storm that caused Watney a lot of headache during his rover trip and some additions to the end. Both are understandable changes with the storm not really needed in the film (and it would have increased the length of the movie quite a bit) and the ending needing a bit more in this medium. The book ended right after Watney was rescued however the additions to the film saw Watney on Earth briefly. This gave the audience a bit more of a resolution and honestly I wouldn’t have minded seeing Watney on Earth in the end of the book as well.
This film was the kind of movie any space geek has too see. It deals with actual science, adventure, exploration of the unknown, and overcoming the odds. Damon gives an incredible performance here and really draws you in to the character of Mark Watney. Also it should be said this is also the kind of movie that deserves a trip to the theater. If you’re like me and wait for most movies to come out on Blu-Ray, I have to caution you’d be missing out on some incredible views here. Very little CGI is used in the film (while on Mars of course) and it really does look like Matt Damon is stranded on this dead desert world. Even when CGI is used (because it sort of has to be with movie set on a different planet) it’s subtle and blends in with reality seamlessly.
Seriously, go see this movie as soon as you can.