“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”
Directed by Ridley Scott, with screenplay by Drew Goddard and adapted from the 2011 book of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian follows a manned mission to Mars when Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind by his crew after he is presumed dead. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meagre supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA, headed up by Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels), and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates, commanded by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), plot a daring rescue mission.
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
Stunning in visuals and full of excellent performances, The Martian is a refreshing science fiction film and a return to epicness for director Ridley Scott. Based on a successful book, Scott brings to life this intelligent story of optimism and immersive adventure.
The Martian was a book made for adapting because we needed to see what it would look like on Mars when in reality we’re only just discovering all of this. The cinematography is beautiful, and the people behind these visuals are incredibly imaginative and creative. But, at the same time, the visuals didn’t wow in the same way that other films in this genre have recently, most notably Gravity and Interstellar. These two films, also set in space, were mind-blowing, whereas The Martian just doesn’t have that effect.
Every actor is perfectly cast, though, including the phenomenal support from Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover. But it’s Damon who leads the way. His performance is outstanding, and he fits the role perfectly. The main reason why all of these characters fit their role so well is because of how well the humour works. Watney and Annie (Wiig), especially, are exactly as I read them in the book, and it is them that make this ‘comedy’ work.
There are quite a few changes from the book to the film, which I will go into further down, but the only major difference is that the film is a very simplified version of the book. There is a lot of detail that it lacks and, as well as a couple more problems Watney is faced with (the water reclaimer breaks and a power fuse blows, losing his communication with NASA), everything seems too easy for Watney in the adaptation. In the book, there’s a lot more that Watney has to consider, having to overthink every single detail and calculation and movement. The maths and jargon may have worn audiences down if as much of this detail was used in the film but, at the same time, I don’t think the adaptation stressed Mark’s terrifying situation as badly as it could have.
What I did like about the adaptation, however, is that you could physically see the effect on Watney, which did hit quite hard in the end. Still, I think it would have helped a great deal to be made to feel more of this pain and desperation during the rest of the story because there were many moments in the book where you did think that Mark may die.
Differences From The Book:
The Martian is a faithful adaptation in most parts: it follows the story pretty closely, only really moves away from the book in the final few scenes, but there are few major parts that the adaptation misses out on.
- The film doesn’t mention CNN’s daily half-hour show about Watney.
- In the book, Watney uses as much space as he can to grow potatoes, including the bunk beds. In the film, he only uses a small space.
- Watney also uses the spacesuits to collect water in the book.
- There’s no concern in the film of Watney’s CO intake.
- When the HAB explodes, Watney takes ages repairing his helmet and has to roll the airlock back towards the HAB.
- In the book, Watney often complains about back pain which he takes medicine for, and he then makes a DIY bath.
- In the book, Watney fries the electronics of Pathfinder when using the drill, and has to continue talking to them using rocks to spell out morse code. The film doesn’t describe this interruption, presumably to make Watney’s communication with NASA easier.
- In the book, Watney spends a lot of time fixing up the rover, supplying it with life support and making a pop tent in which he sleeps.
- On Watney’s way to Ares 4, since he cannot talk to NASA with Pathfinder breaking in the book, Watney doesn’t realise he is heading into a dust storm. He soon realises that the rover’s solar cells aren’t charging for as long, and figures it out for himself. The film misses this out.
- As Watney goes up the ramp in the Schiaparelli Crater, he flips the rover in the book, and must stop to make repairs.
- In the book, Watney shaves and brushes his teeth daily. In the film, Watney’s teeth or rotten and he grows a beard, which shows his deterioration better on-screen.
- Watney writes individual letters to the whole crew for if he dies. In the film, he only talks to Lewis.
- In the book, Lewis makes a plan for Johansen to be the only survivor if the resupply mission fails.
- In the book, Watney doesn’t use the ‘Iron Man’ manoeuvre, although he does suggest it. They use the tether instead, and the book ends with him getting onto Hermes. The film ends with the team returning to Earth, where Watney begins a new life as a survival instructor for new astronaut candidates. The post credit scenes then fast-forward five years, showing how the team are now living their lives. This was a good alteration, however, as it ended with a little more drama and gave all of the characters a better ending, giving a more personal touch.
Overall, The Martian is a simplified adaptation of the densely scientific book, but it’s a story made for the big screen that brings the best out of its director and lead star.