I almost never review movies. I like movies just fine, especially SF and Horror movies, but there are so many opinions floating around the Internet on movies it seems like emptying a shotglass into the torrent to contribute. In the case of the recently released movie THE MARTIAN, I’ll make an exception, as I just recently reviewed Andy Weir’s novel upon which the movie is based (enthusiastically). I loved the book, and I love the movie, for a lot of reasons. First of all, the script is remarkably faithful to the novel, considering it was written by Drew Goddard (of TV’s LOST, DAREDEVIL, the movie CABIN IN THE WOODS– which is a pretty good pedigree, I think). In an interview with Andy Weir, he admits the studio didn’t ask him to write the screenplay (Just cash the check), but Goddard was insistent on drawing Weir into the creative process so what shows up on the screen is more or less (more “more” than “less”) what Weir had envisioned. Every scriptwriter adapting a novel has to trim stuff to make a visual story, and the decisions made by Goddard made sense and added to the visual story he had to tell.
As for the visuals, well, Ridley Scott (director, of oh, I dunno. ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, and a few OTHER SF movies…) has redeemed any scathing blowback he received after PROMETHEUS, because The Martian is a visual delight. It’s very retro in the way it demonstrates space travel as conceived by someone who knows all about the physics and physiology challenges associated with it. The spacecraft all have a very familiar look– as if maybe we aren’t using them right now, but we could easily conceptualize these craft with today’s technology. The Martian vistas are also astonishing. Scott returns to an overhead shot again and again that displays Astronaut Mark Watney’s plucky little rover buggy, moving around like a tiny pinhead on the vast canvas of Mars, reminding us of Watney’s solitude.
I’m not going to touch on the plot, much– if you haven’t read the book, please do. Andy Weir isn’t hurting for money but you’ll appreciate the recommendation. I read it in less than a day. It will make the movie a cinch to understand, if space exploration isn’t your thing. The Martian is a fantastic story– no stupid romance (other than one alluded to but taking place offscreen, and in keeping with the novel), no macho heroics, no CGI explosions and grim faced dudes walking away looking cool, no pew pew pew shooty solutions to the plot. Just competent people working their butts off to solve problems. Astonishing. It’s like Hollywood trusted the audience to be smart enough to follow along for once. Sure, there was plenty of exposition, but it was done in a very intelligent manner and it wasn’t insulting– the book is a long series of log entries, after all.
In closing, this is Matt Damon’s movie and Ridley’s Scott’s movie.. certainly it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from Damon– he has to carry the weight of the story on his shoulders, after all. As for Ridley Scott, he has shown us that the old dog has plenty of new tricks.