The Martian, Matt Damon’s latest “please come get me!” movie, is a good adaptation of a mostly poorly written novel. But, caveats!
I do consider Andy Weir’s novel to be poorly written, from a technical standpoint – though I personally found the book to be a terrific listen, especially because it isn’t JUST Robinson Crusoe-on-Mars-meets-Mission-to-Mars (Watney’s scenes are basically what Don Cheadle was doing offscreen in the latter) with Contact‘s big deus ex machina thrown in for good measure – it’s a book that’s bursting at the seams with conflict and science and logistics, and I recommend it to anyone. A good friend of mine was turned off by the book’s biggest flaws, and I completely understand his reasoning, but I would still recommend it, regardless.
The movie itself is a good adaptation mostly, because it turns a book that isn’t immediately cinematic into something that’s very watchable indeed It tightens up the actual story, and (probably correctly) jettisons the logistics sections, stripping all that away to deliver, essentially, an updated Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Matt Damon is pretty good here, but I kind of like him anyway. He’s not gonna lose any fans over this movie, but might gain some, all things considered. But while Drew Goddard’s script is good, it isn’t great. The scenes back on Earth feel forced and kind of dull. I’m not exactly sure why a slice of budget went to Kirsten Wiig (utterly superfluous) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (anyone could have played his role), but those are also the parts of the book that mostly bore. They punctuate the story that people are paying for: Matt Damon, surviving alone on Mars. Jeff Daniels is actually terrible in this movie. We’re not talking a great actor here already, but he’s so wooden I turned off during his performance sometimes.
Ridley Scott directs with his usual steady competence and eye for design in the sci fi genre. I’m a fan of Scott’s style – have been for a number of years. Even on garbage like Prometheus, Scott’s direction was good. (Let’s face it, when one of your movie’s writers is Damon Lindelof, you’re already starting with a handicap.) The Martian doesn’t disappoint in visuals, or direction, and that’s a thumbs up from me. The soundtrack, at times, is also very evocative of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Alien – does anyone else who’s seen it think so?
One thing that totally annoyed the Hell out of me, though: that horrendous, tacked on X-Men Academy-type “ending”. It wasn’t in the book, and it was totally unnecessary, and I think we all know that NASA doesn’t have a class full of fresh-faced, good looking Millenial astronauts-in-training, like it was some kind of college course. Ugh!
My last criticism of the movie also pertains to the book: the events of the book just don’t feel as if they take place over almost two years (a Martian day in the movie is named a “Sol”, and a Sol is slightly longer than a day on Earth). Everything just feels compressed into what feels like a month or two, just because there are no strongly perceived time gaps in how the characters behave or react, but that isn’t a huge problem for me.
Final word: Donald Glover totally steals every scene he’s in – I hope to see him in more big movies.
Despite its deep flaws, I give it a healthy 4.0/5.0
© Andrew Hope, 2017