Let's get this out of the way right now: The Martian is a great film because The Martian is a great book. Many of the reviews I've seen credit Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard with the movie's success, but in my opinion most kudos truly belong to Andy Weir, and anyone who was smart enough to follow his brilliant vision. The story set a benchmark that thankfully the film reached, by doing what few adaptions have: staying faithful to what worked in the first place.
The Martian was everything I'd hoped it would be, though I did notice it didn't produce the same emotional effect I had when watching Gravity, a film that it is constantly compared to. I'm chalking this up to the fact that Gravity was an unknown script and that I had already read The Martian several months prior, so I knew what was coming. I read the book in less than three days because it's just that good.
Getting to the point, here are a few of the things I loved about Ridley Scott's interpretation:
FIVE THINGS THE MARTIAN DID RIGHT
Rather than rely on a built-in audience from the book, Fox started small in order to create wide interest in the film. Viral videos popped up on the Ares:Live Youtube channel, a promotional tool that showed Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and their co-stars in character, preparing to blast off into space. Later videos included interviews with the crew members and shone a spotlight on characters that had minimal screen time in the feature.
2. NASA partnership
From advance screenings and articles, to panels with cast members and their corresponding NASA counterparts,The Martian did a fantastic job of using the momentum of the film to drive interest in our present-day space program. They also coordinated the film's release with JPL Open House weekend, and the groundbreaking discovery of liquid water on Mars. Nice one, guys.
Watney's sense of humor was one of the main things that made the whirlwind of math and science in the book palatable, to a non-science person like myself, and happily the filmmakers kept this aspect intact. I can safely say I've never laughed so hard at a man stranded in space, fighting for his life. Special shoutout to Chiwitel Ejiofor, for his great comedic timing, but the biggest laughs definitely came during the "Council of Elrond" scene. The clip above is just a small, small slice of the type of shenanigans you can expect.
The sequence where Mark Watney rediscovers Pathfinder in the deserts of Mars gave me goosebumps. The actual satellite and rover landed on the planet in 1997, and eventually lost contact with Earth, reportedly due to battery loss. Reviving Pathfinder saved Mark's life, and I think the film did an excellent job of selling this as a huge, emotional, triumphant moment, remembering one of NASA's greatest achievements in recent history.
5. First-person narration
Two-thirds of the book are written as first-person narration, from Mark Watney's perspective. Using a mixture of video diaries, voice-over, and a multi-camera setup, Ridley Scott conveyed the same intimacy of our perspective on Watney's predicament. Though Damon was speaking to camera, it didn't feel awkward or out of place, in fact, those were some of the film's most genuine moments.
FIVE THINGS THE MARTIAN DID DIFFERENTLY
Loving both the book and the film, I want to look at what's great about The Martian as an event, but also what the differences were between the two mediums. It's important to keep in mind that different doesn't mean bad, it's what happens in adaption, some things just don't translate. The film generally escaped the "Hollywood" treatment, but there's certainly fodder for the purists' bonfires. I'm not stoking the flames, I'm just putting a few logs out there. Be responsible with them.
1. The sandstorm sequence
In the book, on the way to the Ares 4 landing site, Mark Watney loses contact with NASA. This is a set up for one of the most intense sequences in the film, where NASA can see a sandstorm that will reach Watney in the next few days, but has no way to warn him about what's about to happen. The sandstorm will delay Watney's trip and cause him to miss his rendezvous with the Hermes, his only chance of returning home.
The film replaces this sequence with a montage of Watney crossing Martian plains, set to sweeping music. Though I understand they didn't have enough time to include these scenes, they are part of the rising conflict that makes the final chapters of the book an impactful climax.
2. The crew
Probably the strongest reason why audiences should read the book is because there is more space to explore the supporting characters, particularly the members of the Hermes crew. The film rewrites their relationships to Watney in favor of the more well-known actors, so Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Michael Pena get more screen time. Though their cameradarie was preserved, I wish we could have spent a little more time with the crew. Beck in particular was named as Watney's best friend, in the book but that relationship was nixed in the movie.
Speaking of Beck, I want to say in full honestly that the main reason this film came on my radar is because of the actor who plays him: reigning prince of Tumblr, future Captain America and current Winter Soldier Sebastian Stan. I was excited to see that Beck had such a prominent role in the book, but noticed that though most of his character beats were present in the film, they were drastically reduced. All of that was easy enough to understand until the very end, when Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) supercedes Beck's role as primary spacewalker to rescue Watney herself. Her reasoning is emotional, and goes directly against the teamwork aspect that has been built up in the climax - everyone putting their individual skills to one goal. Unfortunately for Sebastian fans, he is merely allowed to helplessly watch as his two friends float around in space.
4. Iron Man and Space Walks
Let's talk about those untethered space walks, something that would never, ever be allowed in space and that Commander Lewis expressly forbade in the book. Yet for some reason we see Beck, hopping along the space station, no tether in sight. This was one of the scenes that reminded me of both Gravity and Interstellar, the former's loose astronaut in space and the latter's spinning spacecraft. And speaking of spinning, though the Iron Man line got some of the loudest laughs of all, it really was supposed to end there. In the book, Watney never does the Iron Man maneuver, for all the reasons stated and ignored in the film. But like he said, it looked cool, right?
There's a moment in the book when Teddy Sanders and Venkat Kapoor (Jeff Daniels and Chiwitel Ejiofor) are agonizing over Watney's mental state, wondering what must be going through his mind. In one of the best comedic transitions ever, we find out, and it's Aquaman. Though the joke appears in the film, the punchline is different. It's disco, and it's funny, but not quite the same. You can get a little taste of what could have been in Watney's post-isolation interview above.
Overall, there are positives, there are semi-positives, and there many, many reasons why those who haven't seen The Martian should make it a top priority. This is one film that definitely deserves your dollars, and a book that deserves a significant portion of the credit.