The novel The Martian was the best book I’ve read so far this year (find my full review here), so how did Hollyweird handle the movie version? Outstandingly.
As in the book, astronaut Mark Watney is a botanist/engineer accidently left stranded on Mars when a freak windstorm descends on his exploration team. Left for dead, Watney has to figure out how to survive on a hostile planet with little food or water for 900 days, until NASA can mount a rescue operation. How he does so, with many twists and turns and a lot of sciencey-type stuff, is as fascinating to watch as it was to read.
Screenwriter Drew Goddard’s (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) script takes just what it needs to from the book to make a tight, suspenseful screenplay. Director Ridley Scott has unleashed his best film in years, making the science of the story work fine despite the audience’s ignorance of engineering or botany (speaking strictly for myself). Scott’s once brilliant work has degenerated to boring political correctness in recent years; it’s good to see he can still focus enough to tell a clear, agenda-free story. Casting is spot on, as the race and nationality of some characters are changed from the book, but still resonate with their literary cousins. Main character Watney is portrayed by Matt Damon, at best a flavor-of-the-day but never a great actor. Whatever he did to achieve this particular performance I hope he continues doing. Damon reflected the loneliness and humor of Watney perfectly while keeping the audience interested in the daily drudgery of living alone on an alien planet.
The ending is a triumph (did you think it wouldn’t be?) perfectly handled by the cast and the deft hand of director Scott. The Martian movie is an excellent companion to the novel, which I suggest you read first. It’s fantastic.
Rating: ****½ stars out of 5