The Martian Isn’t Out of This World

Ridley Scott’s new space blockbuster fails to create a different experience from that of Andy Weir’s novel.


I’m not gonna say Ridley Scott’s The Martian was “out of this world” for the sake of being punny, if I’m being true to myself. The Martian was good and enjoyable, but it’s no revelation. Having read Andy Weir’s novel in advance took away from its suspense, making it not quite as cathartic as other recent space blockbusters like Gravity.


The Martian, which some are calling Castaway on Mars, is the survival story of an astronaut, Mark Watney, left for dead on the red planet after his crew is forced to abort their mission due to a high-wind storm. He must survive for four years until the next manned mission to mars can pick him up. His survival includes growing food and water, maintaining a HAB living space designed to last for just one month, and making contact with NASA without any communication devices whatsoever. Though the odds are stacked against him, Watney’s perseverance and creative and intellectual approach to problem solving  might just keep him alive, both in the novel and its big screen adaptation.


Back on earth, various members of NASA contribute to many of the film’s comedic moments. Such characters are played by Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), and Sean Bean (who doesn’t die in this film!). Jessica Chastain plays Melissa Lewis, the commander of the mission that left Watney behind, and her crewmates are played by Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña and Aksel Hennie, whose accent shares uncanny similarity with that of Christoph Waltz. The performance that makes the movie, unsurprisingly, is Matt Damon’s as Watney. Maybe it’s because there was a sticker on my book that said “soon to be a major motion picture starring Matt Damon,” but I could easily picture him portraying the protagonist as I read the book, and he definitely did a good job. The Martian undoubtedly has a star-studded cast (There’s your pun. Happy?).


The movie was more or less true to the book, with the exception of a few big plot points, whitewashing the character Mindy Park (she was Asian in the book but she was portrayed by a white actress), and changing the name of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character’s name from Venkat Kapoor to a more American sounding Vincent Kapoor (Seriously, 20th Century Fox?!?). The book is also pretty funny and profane but they had to take out a lot of the wittiest dialogues to sustain a PG-13 rating. It’s visually compelling, which doesn’t come as a surprise. There’s also a great montage set to the tune of David Bowie’s “Starman” that’s consistent with the movie’s disco-themed soundtrack, a nice detail from the book they kept.


Overall I enjoyed The Martian and would recommend the film to anyone who hasn’t read the book, but I just wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as people who aren’t familiar with the story because there was no suspense… it just didn’t wow me. Some films create a new experience that is distinct from the books on which they are based, such as Apocalypse Now (Based on Heart of Darkness and Dispatches) or Jaws. The Martian is not one of those films.