Written by Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
The story of how The Martian went from the mind of Andy Weir to the big screen is an interesting one. Originally released as a serial on an online forum, Weir then self published it on Amazon as a means for fans to read it on the kindle for one dollar. From there as the positive reviews rolled in the book caught fire. Once it did, in the span of a week both a print publishing and movie deal were struck. The end result was a massively popular (and highly enjoyable) book and a Ridley Scott directed film, adapted by Drew Goddard, about sending Matt Damon into space for our amusement.
The basic premise of “The Martian” is that NASA has sent the Ares 3 crew to Mars to collect and test various samples on the planet as well as bring back samples to Earth for additional testing. During their 18th SOL (one Mars day) a large dust storm causes the mission to be aborted and they must make an emergency flight back to their space station Hermes. Unfortunately one of the Astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by a piece of debris and sent flying away from the rest of the crew. His bio-monitor stopped responding and after a dangerous search, it was determined that Watney had not survived and the evacuation had to go on without him. The rest of the Ares 3 crew evacuates and returns to the Hermes station after which they will safely return home. There was however one little problem... Watney survived.
This is why people make movies. Specifically, science fiction movies. It uses the setting of Mars and space to amplify the stakes in ways that setting it on Earth could not. It's a star studded affair with more A list actors than you can shake a stick at and all of them in service to the struggle of bringing Watney home. Speaking of Watney, Matt Damon gives a wonderful performance as the stranded astronaut. His charisma, ingenuity, and sense of humor in the face of insurmountable odds not only showcases what amazing people astronauts are but serves as a powerful message to everyone of the sheer power of the human spirit and the willingness to survive when all hope seems lost. It also demonstrates back on Earth, our ability to come together as a society to help those in need, no matter what race, nationality or political association.
And despite those heavy themes that run through the core of the movie, it is also a lot of fun! The comedic timing is spot on, Damon was a perfect choice for Watney's wise cracky attitude. Watney however isn't the film's only source of humor, there are plenty of laughs to be had by other members of the Ares 3 crew and even those at NASA who throw in a good joke or two, including a very meta one during a meeting that had those in the know chuckling.
The best thing the movie has going for it, and something that the book does exceedingly well, is root the story in as much reality as possible. With some advancement in certain technologies available to us today Weir crafted a story that could potentially be a viable way to go to, and survive on Mars. Because of that the movie feels very realistic to the point where you almost forget its completely fictional. It feels like its based on a true story that just hasn't happened yet. Also, given that the story is told primary by astronauts and NASA members, the amount of training and knowledge they have is far beyond anyone else's understanding, so in most conversations it does not warrant explanation in layman's terms because they simply wouldn't have to. This puts most people at at a disadvantage, luckily the filmmakers were smart enough to know that they shouldn't go so heavy on jargon as to, dare I say, alienate, the average viewer and instead proves early on Mark is a smart and capable person and from there sort of skims over the math trusting you know he and everyone involved knows what they are doing. Lucky for us, what they are doing is completely engaging in its own right. Never does it leave you behind to wonder whats going on and everything is just perfectly paced, not a minute is rushed or wasted. I personally love how things work so I would have enjoyed seeing more of those things on screen explained and dissected but that gives way to a four hour instructional video only a few would pay to see so in the end they made the right choice. And if explanations are also your thing, by all means read the book, its chock full of that stuff.
My only other complaints are minor ones. I was a little annoyed that they didn't decrease Mars gravity at all compared to Earth but also technically the dust storm at the start of the movie was also not possible due to the atmosphere so I can get over that. The main issue comes further into his survival.(MILD SPOILER) He is shown to be very skinny, and presumably very weak from rationing to the point of starvation yet he has to do very physical activities that even in the lighter gravity (although not technically present in the movie) would be quite the struggle. The book did a good job of stressing just how draining a lot of the processes were for him and I would have liked to have seen more of that physical wear and tear as another facet of his own drive and perseverance. (END SPOILER)
I noticed going in feeling somewhat tired and the theatre was colder than usual, however, by the end I was hot, sweaty and buzzing from the roller coaster I had just been on. Even at almost 2 1/2 hrs in length, The Martian zips along with energy, humor and excitement, showcasing the strengths of everyone involved, from the script and direction to the acting and music, all of it comes together in a neatly packaged, and wholly entertaining experience.
If you'd like to hear a bit more discussion about the book with author Andy Weir, this conversation with Adam Savage from "Mythbusters" is a good watch. There are spoilers so be warned if you haven't read the book they do give lots of stuff away.