The Martian is a great example of a film being adapted from the book, maintaining what it was that made the book so great, and all the while not having to sacrifice or change things to make the film version work better. As The Martian in its original book film is very movie-esque in the first place, besides all the lengthy science-y descriptors, it acts as an engaging thriller of sorts with conundrum after problem after conundrum to deal with. I enjoyed the book in-so-far as that’s exactly what it was, not some great literary piece of work, but a thrill ride that puts you in this unimaginable place and dares you to think of the impossible, being trapped alone on Mars and somehow fending for your survival.
The first thing that came to my mind watching the film, and something I rarely really comment on, but something that this film hit out of the park is how perfect the casting was from how the characters were imagined on the page to how they were represented on film. Matt Damon is perfect as Mark Watney with him being nerdy, sarcastic, but also has those elements of action set-piece hero. Jeff Daniels is perfect as the no nonsense head of NASA, while Chiwetel Ejiofor (who is just great in everything) is more down-to-earth and provides a more humanly touch to the NASA mission director. MacKenzie Davis gave me a “uhhh, duh, of course she’s the perfect person for this role” moment as the satellite analyst, someone who has been doing great work on Halt & Catch Fire in a similar smart, computer nerd role. Donald Glover does much of the same tapping into his anti-social math/computer genius role. I could go on and on about how perfect others like Chastain, Pena, Mara and Bean were, but you get the picture, phenomenal casting all around.
My biggest and really only major problem with the film is the exact same one I had with the book and a major part of how the story is segmented, so it’s not really a fault of the movie. Coming into the book I was excited about reading this one man character study and seeing him slowly try to come to grips with his situation and try to survive the best you can when you’re literally the only person on a planet. And it is that largely, but then the book switches to the perspective of the people on Earth and tells their part of the story trying to make contact with Watney and figuring out how to get him back. A strong part of me yearns for the version of this story where we never flip back and forth and just like Watney we are trapped on Mars, feeling the claustrophobia and the impending doom around the falsest of moves. But, the tension, is constantly alleviated when we get to retreat back to Earth, where sure they’re worried about getting Watney back, but it’s so much more inviting and so much of a retrieve. The book balances this a lot better, where I felt the trials and loneliness of Watney, but as the film goes on it seems like we spend a lot more time on Earth over Watney’s struggles on Mars. Sure, it’s harder to make a film and make it engaging when it’s solely on one person, the book makes this easier, but to retreat back to all the characters on Earth so much just seemed to take the stakes away from the film and questioned why it was called “The Martian” in the first place, when Watney’s POV seemed less and less a focal point.
But, outside of all that, within what the film is as released it’s an excellent adaptation and a film that seems to fill out the definition of “crowd-pleaser” perfectly where I think everybody can find a lot in this film to enjoy. It’s an engaging science-fiction film, scientists are the strong heroes and protagonists, it maintains its humour throughout, embraces (somewhat) rational though to solve its problems, and tries its best to tell a story about the human spirit. I don’t really see any combination of talent behind-the-scenes making a much better film from the source material. It’s everything you’d ever want from the book, and divorced from the book it’s a unique and fun sci-fi experience.
On a final and side-note, I saw this in 3D, because you basically have no other option nowadays. Like, seriously, around where I live, the only non-AVX and non-3D showing as in just a regular screening was at, like 6:00PM which I feel is like the most purposely inconvenient time where people won’t go to see it at that time (dinner, just getting off work/school etc.) and thus making you pay the extra money to see it in whatever new format they got. And it was fine, it made Mars look cool and gave it that National Geographic documentary look, but the 3D is always just fine in these movies, but never enough to justify it’s inflated price.