The-Martian-movie-poster“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

Last year I read The Martian and by the time December rolled round, declared that it was probably the best book I had read all year. I still stand by that; it was phenomenal. When it was announced that a film was coming out, I was of course dubious because, as any bibliophile knows, the book is always better. Nonetheless, I settled in with my kids snack pack (hey, it works out cheaper!) and awaited the film.

Normally, about here, I would introduce the basic plot, but fortunately it’s the same as the book so I can save a couple of minutes by simply quoting myself from last September. The plot is thus:

This is the story of Mark Watney, one of the Ares 3 crew, which, in the not-too-distant future, is the third manned mission to Mars. Planning to stay for thirty-one days, the crew encounter difficulties after day 6 and have to abandon the planet. However, while trying to get to their escape vessel, Mark is struck by a flying antenna and, with no choice but to push on, his five crewmates leave him for dead and return to orbiting base Hermes to head home.

But Watney is not dead. Against the odds, he has survived. Now he’s on Mars, entirely alone, with no way to contact either Hermes or the Earth. He is the most solitary man in history, with only a couple of rovers and a canvas tent to call home, and with no other missions coming to Mars for four years, he must find a way to survive. Back on Earth, satellites have picked up images that relay back to the folks at NASA that Watney is alive after all. They are also faced with a dilemma about what to do, and with the whole world watching, every moment is critical.

Because much of the book is one man on a planet all by himself, I had wondered how this was going to make for captivating viewing, because films with little dialogue can drag on a little (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey). However, I needn’t have worried. More time is given over to the NASA team on Earth who are planning to rescue him under immensely difficult odds, and Watney talks a lot to himself, recording journals for posterity.

The film retains the books’ hard science fiction line, explaining (with far fewer words) to the viewer the principles of the science that Watney is using. This is crucial, because simply showing him suddenly harvesting potatoes or producing water would give it an unbelievable feel. When you can explain this away with real science (or what sounds like real science), then we are more willing to accept it. That’s the brilliant thing about this film – it feels so real. Perhaps too much so, as it seems a number of people were convinced that it was based on true events.

The loneliest man in the universe.

The loneliest man in the universe.

The film is far less sweary than the book, but aside from that, it seems very faithful to the original text. Some of the science and backstory is streamlined, sure, but that’s the nature of film, and enough is kept in. His journey to find Pathfinder and the Ares 4 landing site are simplified and not so life-threatening, but by this point we’ve seen him nearly die enough times. There’s also a section tacked onto the end of the film about his life post-Mars which isn’t in the book, and I don’t feel was necessary.

The film was mostly shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, where they have huge red deserts, and the landscapes are beautiful, though like many people I’ve lost the ability to tell what’s CGI and what isn’t. And if you think you know, I can assure you, more is than you think. They really do justice to the idea of total isolation, which is a terrifying prospect. As I said when I reviewed the book, it’s a wonder Watney didn’t go mad by himself, but I assume this is suspension of disbelief to allow him to stay a reliable narrator.

In the book, Watney’s only source of music is Commander Lewis’ collection of disco songs, and these form the soundtrack to the film, pairing up the futuristic setting of Mars with such classics as “Hot Stuff”, “Waterloo”, “Love Train” and, of course, “Starman”. The film is altogether funnier than one would imagine of the genre, and this upbeat soundtrack helps with that. The end credits scroll past as “I Will Survive” plays.

The cast are all excellent. Matt Damon is great as the tenacious, courageous Mark Watney, the NASA team, including Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kristen Wiig, are all suitably different and entertaining with their own ideas, ideals, motives and quips. A massive round of applause feels necessary for Sean Bean who manages to make it through an entire film without being killed.

It’s a tense film, but one well worth watching. As usual, the book is still a little bit better, but this is one of the closest comparisons between versions I’ve ever seen. A very beautiful film.