DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
RELEASE DATE: 10/02/2015
STARRING: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain,
Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig.
I was going to pass.
I had feigned excitement with all of my friends: “Shawn, did you hear about The Martian movie? I can’t wait!” “Yeah, me neither. It’ll be so great!”
Except it won’t be. Why do they have to ruin every good book with a movie? And the book was amazing, no way could a movie hold up. I was going to pretend to be busy until it was out of the theaters, but then I scored tickets to a pre-screening. Alright, I guess I’m doing this.
Everyone else working on a movie adaptation of a book needs to take a lesson from Ridley Scott – this is how you do it.
Start with one of the best features of the book: realistic science. I can forgive what was obviously a USB hub that appears in an airlock late in the film because everything else stayed true to the incredible work Andy Weir put into his book to make it a scientifically accurate space story. Science is awesome and compelling all on it’s own. It doesn’t need jazzing up in a movie that is not presenting itself as sci-fi. There are no jet-packed astronauts buzzing around like hummingbirds (as in another recent space movie). No heroes pulling plot devices out of jargon-filled, nonsensical monologues. You don’t need any of that with a good story and real science to back you up. The movie leaves all of that intact and is much better for it.
But does talk of kilopascals and delta-v’s do nothing for you? You’re in luck because equally entertaining is the interplay of the out-sized personalities back on Earth working the problem of rescuing a man off the surface of Mars. From Jeff Daniels nailing the does-it-sound-like-I’m-joking director of NASA, to Kristen Wiig’s reaction to being out of the loop on a Lord of the Rings joke, all of these characters come together and bounce off each other in ways that bring the tension-fueled humor of the book to the screen. Even minor roles like Benedict Wong as head of the JPL perfectly contribute to the feeling and tone of the film. Then there is Matt Damon as stranded astronaut Mark Watney. Hell yes I was skeptical. Primed to roll my eyes at what was sure to be “Jason Bourne in space.” But it didn’t happen; the dry wit and pluckiness of book-Watney was all there in Damon’s movie-Watney. A solid performance, central to the story, that didn’t overpower everything else going on around him.
And this is what I think might be Mr. Scott’s greatest success with this adaptation. The book is long, the characters fully developed in their roles, and their interactions are masterfully orchestrated. Yet with only two hours and 20 minutes almost all of this makes it into the movie. It could not have been done better without doubling the running time.
The difference between the book and the movie? The book was simply more. This is the way it should be. Should you experience one before the other? I don’t think it matters. If you walk out of the movie thinking to yourself, “Man, I wish they would have explained why that widget did that thing, or how did the Mars project manager cut through all the NASA red tape and…” no problem: there is a whole damn book written about it, and it’s awesome – just like the movie.