Review – The Martian

Here’s the rub…it’s going to be another four years for another mission to reach me…and I’m in a Hab designed to last me 31 days. I gotta make water and grow food on a planet where nothing grows. But if I can’t figure out a way to make contact with NASA then none of this matters anyway. So let’s do the math. I have enough food to last me 50 days. So…I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.

I haven’t been particularly subtle about my love for Andy Weir’s The Martian. I was obsessed with it when I read it, I still loved it when I read it again, and several months later I wrote about just how into it I was on this very blog. I also used that post to talk about how excited (and nervous) I was about the prospect of Ridley Scott’s film adaptation.

Hey, guys. Guess what? I didn’t need to be nervous. Because it was great.

This opinion might not necessarily come as a surprise, but it’s not just because I love the book unreservedly – it’s because it’s a really good film. The novel lends itself to a cinematic adaptation in the way that most books don’t, but this isn’t necessarily an indication of a good film. The Martian, though, sidesteps any problems by taking the most cinematic bits of the novel and making something different of the passages that aren’t necessarily so visually interesting. This works really well, and even though there are some obvious departures from the book, I think every single decision made about changing the source text for the screen was for the best. As a result, I think it’s the most faithful adaptation of the book I could have hoped to see in the cinema.

There are several things which stand out. I actually saw it in 3D, which I really enjoyed – I know: I’m just as shocked as you are. The film uses shots framed from different cameras in the narrative – the cameras on the astronauts’ suits; the cameras in the Hab; the cameras on the rover – and it uses text on the screen, brought to the foreground by the 3D, to draw attention to things like vital signs and temperature levels in these different situations. Bringing these forward in the frame so noticeably made them a part of the story, and difficult to ignore (which is useful, because they clarify things throughout the film). These little bits are part of a frankly spectacular series of visuals throughout the film. It looks INCREDIBLE. The planet looks huge and desolate and beautiful; the Hermes looks clean and futuristic, sure, but also like how I imagine how real spaceships look (I may be horribly wrong, but it worked for me).

One of my major worries going in, though, was how much of the tone of the book would be lost in cinematic translation. I love basically every character (particularly Mark Watney, obviously) on the page, and even though the promo videos gave a hint that the same spirit would still be there, I was still a bit concerned. Again, pointless. This is a funny film. It doesn’t feel glib either – every laugh comes from a character beat, or a line of dialogue that just makes sense for whoever’s saying it. It’s acknowledging that some people use humour to deal with really awful situations, and as a result it feels totally believable. In fact, the character work as a whole is really good. It gives a fairly decent impression of almost every named character with minimal dialogue, or through a montage (I’m thinking of one in particular that made me feel punch-the-air levels of happy). It almost certainly helped that every single cast member was brilliant throughout, fleshing out all of these characters more than just a good script could.

These aspects together make for a film which is one of the most memorable and most enjoyable cinematic experiences I’ve had this year. It’s not an experience quite like watching Avengers: Age of Ultron was, though, which made me cry because I was so happy. I’ve looked back on Age of Ultron and, while I still love it, I do have to acknowledge that it’s flawed. I’m not sure I’m going to turn back to The Martian in a couple of months and feel similarly. I left the film not overwhelmed, but impressed. It’s a really good film, and it would have been a really good film without my previous investment. I’m happy that I’ve seen one of my favourite books on screen, and done so well, but I also know that I would have been happy seeing that film without any prior knowledge. It’s a really good film.

(It’s also the film that has its cake and eats it with the BBFC’s rule on only one f-bomb per 12A-rated film. In fact, it features the best on-screen swearing since Wolverine’s cameo in X-Men: First Class. Seriously – it’s outstanding.)

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