Paint­ing by num­bers

The McLeod River Post - - The Review - Craig McInnes

Book adap­ta­tions to the big screen tend to be a messy af­fair. It’s of­ten hard to trans­fer the depth of a novel, (or se­ries) of books with­out los­ing some of the in­her­ent char­ac­ter that ev­ery book— good or bad— has. Peter Jack­son’s Lord of The Rings adap­ta­tion may go down as one of the great­est adap­ta­tions of all time. He took nine books and spread then over three films in a taste­ful, com­pro­mis­ing way that not only left the mes­sage of the books in­tact, but added a bit more drama and cut fat. He then did a com­plete 180 and made three films out of The Hob­bit, and it very much seemed like had to add plot points to fill the gaps. In do­ing so, the soul of the (of­ten re­garded as su­pe­rior) book from Mid­dle Earth felt de­riv­a­tive. And whilst I can say that I en­joyed The Mar­tian, I can­not for the life of me think as why it even got made in the first place.

To the cynic in me, it seems that Ri­d­ley Scott did a safe pic­ture. These are of­ten things that stu­dios put into con­tracts to make money back on ei­ther pre­vi­ous flops, or up­com­ing ones. They gen­er­ate cash, which, of course, is the sole pur­pose of the in­dus­try. A di­rec­tor gets to do some­thing that the stu­dio does not agree with, (Prometheus: Par­adise Lost) but only if they agree to do some­thing safe that is a sure fire hit. In this case, it’s The Mar­tian.

It’s based on the novel by Andy Weir, and fol­lows Mark Wat­ney, Engi­neer/Botanist/ As­tro­naut and all around MacGyver as he is left stranded on Mars, pre­sumed dead af­ter a ter­ri­ble storm. Wat­ney must use his sur­vival skills and NASA know-how to over­come al­most in­sur­mount­able odds. The book is metic­u­lously re­searched, and most NASA sci­en­tists have yet to find too much wrong with it. SO the screen­play can­not be faulted, (too much). The science and pseudo MacGyver science is pos­si­ble. Check mark there. The story is en­ter­tain­ing, but only when it stays with Wat­ney. The minute you turn the page and get to NASA the brakes get slammed on, and you find your­self want­ing to get back to Cast Away on Mars, not lis­ten­ing to of­fice ban­ter from a seem­ingly over stacked ensem­ble cast, (Jeff Daniels, Kris­ten Wig, Don­ald Glover— even SEAN BEAN!) NOTE and pos­si­ble spoiler alert for Bean Fans: He does not die in this film.

Ri­d­ley Scott knows what he’s do­ing be­hind the cam­era, the ef­fects are de­cent, and Matt Damon plays him­self and the every­man in space. But that was the prob­lem for me with the book. Astro­nauts are so well trained that they know how to speak Rus­sian. They have to know ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, as­tro­physics, chem­istry, ad­vanced first aid and zero grav­ity trauma re­sponse, elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing the­ory— the list goes on. Be­sides Chris Had­field, (a Cana­dian trea­sure, I might add) most Astro­nauts have no room for per­son­al­ity. I could un­der­stand that af­ter four years alone, he would grad­u­ally slide to be­ing ec­cen­tric and say what he though. But one of his first video logs is “I’m go­ing to have to science the s**t out of this place.”

Damon nails the book char­ac­ter— kooky, lippy, re­source­ful and smart. But he just seems like Matt Damon on Mars. Be­sides him just dy­ing on a planet alone, there isn’t much else to go on for drama. Tom Hanks wanted to get back to He­len Hunt and not die in Cast Away. And Matt Damon is the only per­son on Mars. With low sup­plies and fail­ing equip­ment. There is al­most no con­flict at NASA, and they even work with the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to get Wat­ney home. In a sense it’s re­fresh­ing that it’s not turned into a Michael Bay schlock fest, and that it stays true to the book. I guess what I’m try­ing to say is that it’s one of the best adap­ta­tions you will see in a while. As a stand­alone film, it’s okay. Just don’t read the book at all and you’ll walk away with a smile on your face. If you have read the book, you can rest as­sured that ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing hap­pens in the book on screen, but is not ex­plained so you can be the uber-smart per­son who knows the science heavy lingo. 7/10

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