Based on the novel by Andy Weir, The Martian is a film about one man’s fight for survival after he is mistakenly presumed dead by his fellow astronauts and left behind on Mars. He has a large amount of food and other supplies but not nearly enough to last him the years it will take before another space ship is scheduled to arrive back on the planet. Knowing this, Mark Watney must get to work and ‘science the shit’ out of a planet where nothing grows and his only ‘company’ is the abundance of disco music left by his commander, Melissa Lewis.
Andy Weir's phenomenal book is a great mixture of peril and laughter, as Watney is a man who uses humour to cope with stress. He is self-deprecating and witty and stops the book from ever being too miserable. Yet there is also A LOT of science in the book that many reader's have found slows the reading process down dramatically.
The film adaptation of The Martian is riddled with drama and peril, just like the novel. Will he manage to grow enough food? Will he manage to make water? Will another storm arrive to finish him off after he somehow survived the last one? Will he ever make contact with the people back home at NASA who believe him to be dead? These dramas make for a tense viewing experience that could have proven too much for some viewers – were it not for the fantastic sense of humour our hero Watney brings in the face of adversity. None of that humour is lost.
Watney leads the entire story and in that is its greatest treasure. He is bold, taking insane risks because there is no other way. When something fails, he gets back up and tries again. He does what he has to in order to survive, and that includes finding things to laugh at. Matt Damon does a phenomenal job of capturing the many sides to this brilliantly complex character, meaning that audiences will quickly come to love him and support him – and hope against hope that he finds a way home. Screenwriter Drew Goddard has understood the importance of Watney, allowing time in the screenplay for the viewer to really understand who he is and what drives him forward. This could so easily have been lost in the adaptation process because, of course, the book has plenty of time to explore it but the film does not.
The ensemble cast assembled for the film – including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Bridges and Chiwetel Ejiofor – are also a thing of wonder. There are all sorts of actors involved, of different age, gender, nationality and race. But the brilliance is that this is not done to be a gimic of any kind. There is no political correctness here, just a representation of the wider world in which we live – something many would argue is seriously lacking in cinema today. There are numerous relationships explored throughout the film – that of family, friends, work colleagues, etc. – but these are secondary to the goal at hand: get Mark Watney home.
Throw all of this against a Ridley Scott backdrop and you have something spectacular. There is an established human heart to this story but the Mars landscapes, the shots of his fellow astronauts travelling home without him, and the impact their stories have on the people back on Earth, throw this story out to a wider, more cinematic, film experience. Watney’s world becomes that much bigger as the film progresses, transforming this solitary story of survival into a wider tale of human connection and helping someone in need when all seems lost.
The Martian is a flawless adaptation that captures all the humour and drama of the novel. It trims down the science part of the novel and makes everything just a little bit 'nicer' but apart from that it works superbly well. The cast are fantastically honest in their performances, and Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard make for an exciting filmmaking team who clearly understand how to combine great character development with stunning scope. The film is best savoured on a large screen and, with the added 3D, it becomes truly immersive. This is a cinematic delight you’ll want to experience over and over.