I was initially worried when I saw it was being made by Ridley Scott. Undeniably a great film maker, he has in recent years displayed an unfortunate knack for turning rich source material into unsatisfactory films (Exodus: Gods and Kings, Prometheus, Robin Hood). But not this time. In fact, this is Ridley Scott's best film in decades. His best since Blade Runner, or possibly Alien. Certainly his best since Gladiator.
A lot of credit is due to Drew Goddard, who adapted the novel for the screen. Goodard got his start writing for TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and his movie credits include the stupendous Cabin in the Woods, one of my favourite films of recent years. Here he has done a fine job of compressing the source material while remaining true to it.
The novel The Martian is essentially a tale of a man resourcefully overcoming life-threatening dilemmas, and then having more dilemmas thrown at him. The film simplifies the plot, and reduces the number of catastrophes that befall poor astronaut Mark Watney. Which is understandable... otherwise the movie would have been emotionally exhausting and overlong.
It also reduces the comic element of the book, which is a bit of a shame, though probably inevitable and possibly the right call... Nevertheless, I was disappointed to see some of my favourite jokes go ("I call it my lucky cable").
Where the movie scores over the book is that it actually adds a brief epilogue after Mark is rescued... something I would have welcomed in the book, which ends somewhat abruptly.
Lest I dwell too much on Drew Goddard's contribution, Ridley Scott obviously deserves huge plaudits. I particularly enjoyed the montage sequence he contrived, set to David Bowie's song 'Starman'.
My only real complaint is that the film makers made no attempt to depict the reduced gravity on Mars. This particularly irked me when Mark Watney was chucking heavy objects out of a vehicle, and they fell to the ground just like they would on Earth. Ah well, Hollywood and science... (Oh, and Lucy had a thing or two to say about layered sediment in a landscape where there shouldn't be any.)
Anyhow, a great film from a great book. Nice work all around. Matt Damon is first-rate in the title role, and back on Earth Mackenzie Davis shines as a space nerd at NASA mission control. Indeed the large cast is exemplary. Sean Bean, Jeff Daniel, Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor are amongst the excellent casting choices made.
The cinematography is by Dariusz Wolski. The fine music is by Harry Gregson-Williams, and is reminiscent of Vangelis's score for Blade Runner, and at times of Morricone.
I saw this movie in 3D, but I don't feel that brought anything much to the party. Catch it as soon as you can in whatever format is available to you.
(Image credits: All the posters are from Imp Awards.)