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The Inevitable Triumph of 'The Martian'

It would have been really hard for Ridley Scott to fuck this one up.
October 2, 2015, 4:36pm

This post contains spoilers for The Martian.

If you at all like what we do at Motherboard and are for some reason still wondering whether you should see The Martian or not, let's just make it clear right now: There are few movies whose themes align so closely with what we care about here, and there are few movies that pull off their basic premise so well. Go watch Matt Damon science the shit out of Mars—you'll thoroughly enjoy it.

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The Martian follows Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut who has to figure out how to survive several years on Mars after a storm has forced his crew to abort its planned mission. Left with no way of communicating with Earth, enough food for only a few months, and a music supply that's very heavy on disco, Watney becomes Mars's first farmer, a MacGyver capable of turning rocket fuel into water and rigging a solar-powered rover into a trans-Mars caravan.

This is about as direct a translation from print to screen as you're ever going to get

I didn't think Andy Weir's novel was particularly well-written (I never got the sense that he knew how to develop any of the non-Watney characters) but the story's premise was so engrossing, the action so harrowing, that a movie adaptation seemed not only inevitable but probably preferable to the written word. That's not to disparage Weir; the setup is so good, the science so sound that even merely competent writing is able to turn it into an obvious blockbuster flick.

And that's what director Ridley Scott and and screenwriter Drew Goddard did. If you've read the book, you're not going to be surprised by anything in the movie, but you probably won't be too disappointed by anything they left out. Damon has every bit of Watney's wit and bleak sense of humor; Jeff Daniels is every bit the overly cautious bureaucratic jerk that NASA administrator Teddy Sanders is in the book.

The Martian has an all star cast, a legendary sci fi director, and one of the most immediately comprehensible sci fi storylines in years

This is about as direct a translation from print to screen as you're ever going to get. Scott left out a massive dust storm in the middle of Watley's journey across Mars, he runs into a couple fewer obstacles overall, and his recovery by the Ares crew is slightly different, but most every major plot point is covered, and, yeah, it's awesome to actually be able to hear the disco Watney spends much of his time complaining about.

The triumph here is in the medium. Mars and science are the stars of this thing. Though it was plenty riveting to imagine Watney getting swept away in a Martian storm, it's better to actually see it. This goes for much of the film: The first potato sprouts, the tarp-covered Mars launch, the scale of the rovers and the Martian habitats—all are better on screen. Even NASA scrambling to put a probe together and Rich Purnell's Earth gravity assist maneuver play out with a life they never had on the page.

None of this is terribly surprising. The Martian has an all star cast, a legendary sci fi director, and one of the most immediately comprehensible sci fi storylines in years. The movie is a competent hit, a story that needed to be seen and not merely read.

Rebuffed by literary agents and publishers, Weir released the book a chapter at a time, for free, as a series of blog posts on his website. The book's success was improbable, which is why it's so strange that the movie's success felt utterly inevitable.