Friday, 2 October 2015

The Martian (Review)

I really hate having such a predictable, worn-out opinion, but I think The Martian novel by Andy Weir is far superior to The Martian film directed by Ridley Scott. There's no doubt that reading the book before seeing the film negatively impacted my views on the adaptation. Compared to the thrilling dense logic of Andy Weir's against-all-odds narrative, the film feels like a bit of a melodramatic, overly-sentimental mess.

But it isn't bad. I don't think Ridley Scott ever makes bad movies. But he does make movies that feel like they could have been sharper, and The Martian is one of them. So although the movie gets a lot of aspects right, and delivers some exciting set-pieces, I think it butchers what makes this story great.

The story obviously centres around the lead character, Mark Watney. I find Matt Damon to be a great Mark Watney. Unfortunately so much of the character's ingenuity that made him a great protagonist is missing from the film. This comes as a side effect of how many subplots are removed from the film's narrative. Basically, a lot more stuff goes wrong in the book, thereby making Mark Watney a more impressive Mars survivor. A major message of the story is how powerful science is, how much humans can achieve when they put their mind to it, how cool this is, but by simplifying Watney's challenges the film makes this a less powerful theme. Surviving Mars is depicted as a much easier feat in the movie. By leaving scientific details unexplained but highlighting Watney's somewhat rebellious nature, the movie makes Watney seem more reckless than ingenious.

Then there's just the filmic dramatisation of it all. I fell in love with the novel because of how real it feels, with logical situations and not-necessarily likeable people. It's probably my own fault for having so many expectations, but I was disappointed that the film lost this factor by over-emphasizing emotional beats. It just doesn't feel real anymore. Most offputting is the way the film depicts communication between characters in different parts of space. In the book this is no problem, it's all typed. Unfortunately the only thing the film does to make this screen-worthy is to have the characters say out loud what they are typing. That looks stupid. Here, let me try. I'm doing it right now. I am sitting in my room saying these words aloud. I feel like an idiot.

Well this is a downer. The film isn't bad though. I think it just stood little chance against the book it drew from, especially when it decided to simplify and dumb-down rather than adapt and explore the narrative. What should have been a taut, nail-biting outer-space The Truman Show is instead a mess of half explained science fiction wrapped in a sentimental sheet of tattered NASA canvas.