Painting by numbers
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