A scientist played by Matt Damon is stuck on Mars, and although they think he’s dead, he’s going to do whatever it takes to survive long enough to be rescued. Sounds like a ton of fun, right?
It actually is.
The book mixes in a considerable amount of math and science, which caused me to wonder whether the great story that unfolded across the pages and the humor injected at nearly every turn by author would translate to the screen, or whether audiences would just have their heads spin. At times, I had to go back and re-read a paragraph or two to see if I was understanding things.
Sure enough, everything translated and was navigated adeptly, resulting in a very entertaining film.
To say that Matt Damon carries the film is an understatement, and it’s stating the obvious. For about half the film, he’s the only one on screen and has no one to talk to aside from the camera as he makes recordings to help document his work in support of creating a survivable situation.
As he works to find ways to communicate with Earth to let them know he’s still alive, and to find ways to prolong his maximum survival time with additional resources and Mars-grown food (he’s a botanist, he figured it out), the folks on Earth are dealing with a few problems as well. Namely, they’re trying to figure out whether he’s alive, whether they could rescue him without stranding more astronauts on Mars in the process, and what to tell the American public about their potentially expensive efforts. A fun performance is given by Donald Glover (Community) as an outside-the-box thinker who could probably use a bit more sleep. His addition to the enjoyability is limited by his role being limited to just three or four short scenes.
The third group of individuals the film follows are the other astronauts who had visited Mars with Damon’s character, Mark Whatney, and were unable to bring him along as they evacuated the planet, thinking him dead. None of their performances were notable, though the source material didn’t provide much reason for us to be significantly interested in any of them apart from the captain of the crew, portrayed on film by Jessica Chastain. Without giving too much away, Chastain portrayed the character well, but I wasn’t too pleased with the way Hollywood altered the storyline late in the film with respect to her character, having her do something that didn’t make sense and went against the way she was developed through the plot.
The final five minutes of the film wasn’t content included in the book, but it certainly helped add closure to the story, helping ease viewers back into the real world after having spent considerable time in a stressful-yet-entertaining journey with three groups of people. The book hit the final notes on the efforts at hand and then just ended the story, and just the additional efforts made for the film helped give it a few extra points in my rating.
The set design and sound editing/mixing are what really helps put this film over the top. They really help to make you feel like you’re on Mars. You get the idea of how lonely and tiresome Mark Whatney’s existence is on The Red Planet. The vehicles, which I found to be hard to imagine while reading the book, look great, and so do the accompanying technologies.
I have no qualms with the fact that someone other than Matt Damon won the Academy Award for Best Actor. I feel the same about The Martian not winning Best Picture. Both nominations were deserving, as is at least one viewing of the film. It’s a great mix of science fiction, comedy, adventure and suspense. And also, read the book. It’s worth it, too.
My score: 88 out of 100