Andy Weir’s The Martian is possibly my least favorite book I’ve ever read from start-to-finish. Trite, boring, and told through the eyes of the type of nerd you’d shoe off your porch with a broom, it is, handily the only book I’ve read all the way through solely so no one could use the fact that I hadn’t finished the book against me in a debate on its merits. That said, an adaptation is a wonderful way to make a shitty book great (Gone Girl for example) and under the inconsistent, but sometimes masterful eye of Ridley Scott, it could be amazing.
There are two types of book adaptations: one, a fantastic book that is so good someone feels it needs to be turned into a film and more often than not it crashes and burns on the rocky plains of its own hype. Or, two, an excessively shitty book that when put into the hands of a good screenwriter and director becomes more than the sum of its parts. The Martian is, thankfully, the latter. The story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon in one of the best roles of his already weighty career), an astronaut who gets stranded, by himself, on Mars and must use his own ingenuity to not only survive, but find a way off a completely barren planet was, in book form, a low-brow sci-fi slog masquerading as what dumb critics referred to as “hard sci-fi.” Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard manage to mine the skeletal remains of the book to find a story not only of survival, but of one imbued with humor and a sense of the great wonder of outer-space. Weir’s version of Mark Watney was a nebbish nerd who optimistically smiled into every situation, peppering his lengthy diatribes on science with pop culture references that made me want to burn the book, then self-immolate myself, but Damon manages to maintain the humor (and this is a very funny movie) but to inject not only a sense of urgency, but a sense of wonder that makes it believable that this very mundane man, might be able to make survival on Mars into a sort of adventure. And Scott makes this the very best sort of adventure story, the one where the stakes are so high – the life off a singular human being – that every moment, every error, every bit of luck makes you want to jump out of your seat and scream. It isn’t just Damon and Scott’s film though, the wide cast of scientists and other scientists and astronauts are rounded out by a slew of big actors taking character roles. Jessica Chastain shows off a gritty underside as the captain who left Watney behind. Michael Pena continues to showcase himself as the best and brightest of the new class of character actors. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Daniel Glover – the list goes on and on, with each actor bringing their considerable skills to fill out an ensemble that never falters for a moment. It would’ve been hard for this film to be worst than the source material it came from, but it’s more than that, it’s a beautiful, though low-key testament to the power of science, and the hope it can still instill in humanity.
Ridley Scott thinks NASA is full of good looking women.