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In almost every sense The Martian should not have worked. From the first-time author, to the screenwriter, to the cast, to the market in which it was released, this movie had the potential to fail countless times. And yet, it didn’t. The film delivers. Whether a lover of the novel in which it is based or a casual movie-goer, viewers are guaranteed an original interpretation of a space journey. In fact, Ridley Scott’s The Martian is not only worthy of its critical and financial success, but it will undoubtedly set a precedent in Hollywood for how science fiction films should be perceived.
Let me preface by saying that I was absurdly excited for this movie. Crying-at-the-trailer, obsessively-counting-down-the-days excited. Some may call this excessive, and while they may be correct, I feel every avid fan of the novel can sympathise. It has been a few years since I have read an entire text in one sitting, and Andy Weir had me, a detester of numbers and technical terminology, emotionally invested in his nerdy science fest. I loved every second of it. Originally an engineer, Weir self-published The Martian in segments on his website, emailing his followers of updates. By popular demand, he listed it on Kindle for 99 cents (a fact I later learned after purchasing it on paperback for $10). An unconventional and comically simple debut, yet Weir’s writing is addictive, demonstrating strength that even more seasoned writers cannot convey.
For those unfamiliar, The Martian centres on Mark Watney, an astronaut who was abandoned on Mars after an unexpected wind storm forces his crew to abort the mission prematurely. Presumed dead, Watney must establish a method of communication with NASA and extend his food supply for a chance to be rescued. Although the subject matter could have set a bleak tone, Weir creates an unflappable and optimistic character who approaches his conflict with humility. This is the man who, after being chastised by NASA officials for swearing on a teleprompter broadcasting live across the globe, responds with: “Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)” (a verbatim excerpt). He is a ketchup-loving, disco-hating botanist and self-declared ‘space pirate.’ To put it simply, Watney is a likeable man.
It was Weir’s humour, an intrinsic element to the text, that I expected to be forgone by filmmakers attempting to create Academy-Award bait. Coming from screenwriter Drew Goddard, who wrote 2011’s Cabin in the Woods (silly) and 2013’s World War Z (odd), I was expecting a shallow adaptation that tried to satisfy audiences with cheap laughs. Fortunately, Goddard formed a necessary balance of sentiment with light-hearted dialogue. The screenplay even resolved the only critique I had of the novel: a lack of catharsis. Styled like journal logs, the suspense was removed by Watney writing about the aftermath of his challenges. In live action, director Ridley Scott and Goddard fill the gaps of Watney’s narration with the much needed emotion to truly take Weir’s vision into a reality.
Really cementing this film in glory is the remarkable acting. I originally anticipated the cast to be a cover-up for a poor film: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean all in one film? The last time a cast this strong was called together, the film was titled ‘New Year’s Eve,’ and millions of people cringed. Luckily, every actor performs with outstanding stamina, but Damon reigns supreme with his tremendous interpretation of Watney.
At face value, The Martian seems to be another reiteration of the familiar space flick; however, unlike recent films Gravity and Interstellar, it never limits itself to one genre. Simultaneously referring to comedy, drama, action, and sci-fi, Scott and Weir dominate the senses with a style that every director will attempt to recreate in the near future. The Martian will leave an impact on science fiction just like The Dark Knight did to superhero movies and Mad Max: Fury Road did to the action. Audiences can see the film without reading the book and vice versa, but why would you ever want to? Embrace the nerdy, science freaks in yourselves and fall victim to a spectacular adventure.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox