Monday Review: The Martian
I finally got to see The Martian.
Sucks that it took so long. This was on the “worth a babysitter, run out to the theatre” list but, alas, as the sage once said, “Life, the universe, and everything.”
I always feel a good bit of trepidation when seeing a film based on a book I liked let alone one I loved (and I loved The Martian if I didn’t make that clear ages ago when Luke and I did our show on it). Usually, my concern is well founded (looking at you Horns). And, for me, Ridley Scott is a hit or miss director; yes, he is one of the greats, but there’s also a lot of floatsam and there’s no way to know which one you’re going to get on a given project.
I, unlike many, including a review I read which complained the author felt Mark Watney was written with Matt Damon in mind, wasn’t sure about the casting. For this story to work, the character of Mark Watney must captivate the reader/viewer on his own for the majority of the story. I liked the technical parts of the book, but the bits I cared about the most were those featuring our intrepid Captain Blonde Beard and the Ares crew. The later have one another to play off. Watney has only himself and his potato plants. Very few actors can meet that challenge and Colin Farrell (who I sometimes adore and sometimes want to punch in the face) set a pretty high standard in Phonebooth. Not only is he basically the only actor in the ninety minute film, he doesn’t even have he luxury of moving around; he is, quite literally, stuck in a phone booth.
I like Matt Damon. He’s good even in bad movies. But, as I said, this particular character holds a very special place in my heart and I desperately wanted to see him done justice. I was pleasantly surprised. Damon was absolutely perfect and I’m very glad he was cast. The rest were impeccable as well and I can see why Damon wishes, “I had more scenes with them.”
Also, Sean Bean doesn’t die, so there’s that.
As to the movie itself: the important events were all there. The characters, even the bits of retained dialogue (though I really do wish they’d saved the Aquaman/whale discussion for the movie rather than blowing it in promo materials). The events they cut (Mark rolling the rover over the edge of the crater on the way to the Aries IV MAV site, for example) weren’t essential and just piled more crap on Watney, whose desperate situation they were able to convey just as well by altering Damon’s body, adding the signs of starvation and vitamin deprivation – they even screwed up his teeth to give him scurvy. Each personality was pitch perfect, from Watney down to Rich Parnell (Donald Glover should be in everything). The thing was visually stunning and they kept in a lot of the science-bits which was rad because the hard science, and Watney’s ability to pull it out of his ass, is really what makes the book special. It had been a long time since I’d read any hard sci-fi and I think for me, and for a lot of my fellows, Andy Weir’s book was a welcome re-introduction.
It, like The Expanse novels, is also a reminder that space, that final frontier, is huge and vast and beautiful. And terrifying. That every astronaut who has ever gone up, who lives on the ISS, who will travel in the future is risking everything. Their families are risking everything. For us. So that we can learn. So that we can go higher, further, faster. So when the fallout from what we’ve done to our world hits critical mass, there’s a chance we’ll survive.
So you really want to cut that space program, huh? NASA, for you, I will cheerlead.
The most important thing, however, is that the film conveyed the spirit of the book impeccably. The facts, the raw emotion, the idea that the two can co-exist triumphant, that they aren’t mutually exclusive. Cooperation between nations, a refusal to surrender, the complexity and miracles the human mind, ingenuity, love, honor, chivalry, persistence, the love of exploration… we see so little of that in the media. Or on the news. Ever. And while I won’t say I’m an apologist for the apparently majority of assholes in the human race, I think we can all, in the current climate, use a little bit of positivity. And PS, in case you think they were happy washing it, Watney does survive in the book and even though it’s a stretch, it is a scientific possibility. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first. Then I decided, damn it, of course he survived. He’s Mark fucking Watney.
And that Starman scene… yes, I know it was an obvious Bowie choice and that it was a montage. And maybe it wouldn’t have hit me so hard if Bowie hadn’t died last week but his voice and lyics over the astronauts talking to their families and Mark getting the rover ready… all of them knowing that death was one tiny hole in a pressurised ceramic can away… I’m getting a little teary thinking about it two days later. Even the stoic hubs had a moment and like me, he rarely has that experience with media.
My only real complaint about The Martian is the whitewashing of Mindy Park. After going the distance to make certain all of the characters where the correct gender and nominally the correct ethnicity, could someone explain why the one assigned non-caucasian engineer was about as white as possible? The actress was fine in the role. And yes, Vincent Kapoor was Indian at the book but at least no one took the correction fluid to him and they did add a line in the movie explaining the change when he answered the question, “Do you believe in God?” with,”One of my parents was Hindu and the other was Baptist. I believe in a lot of them.”
As for the Golden Globes electing it “best comedy or musical…” Yes, it’s funny. It’s hilarious. But it isn’t a comedy. The film is about a man stranded on another planet, doing his damnest to survive until help, which may likely never come, comes. He’s funny so he doesn’t curl up in a ball and die of despair. This is some of the most black humor I’ve ever seen. This is humor as palliative care, as death shroud. That doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. It is. I was laughing my ass off when I wasn’t crying. But it isn’t a comedy. Have some balls people. Don’t file it under “throw away,” simply because it’s a genre film and because it contains actual science. I won’t give up my hyperspace because it makes me giggle and it’s pretty but Weir did a lot of research here. Don’t write it off because that research is science instead of history and it doesn’t involve a bear.
Should you see The Martian? You absolutely should. This is the first non-superhero, non-Star Wars film I’ve one hundred percent adored in ages. It may also been the first non-superhero, non-Star Wars film I’ve seen in ages. Wait, no. I watched John Wick a couple weeks ago, that was sort of fun. Regardless, I am going to unreservedly give The Martian five out of five fingers on the hand of glory and I’m even going to add the middle finger from the other hand. Jon and I watched iZombie and The Expanse last night and he said he was surprised I didn’t want to watch The Martian again instead. To be honest, I’d considered it but variety etc. I am quite sure I am going to watch it many, many times.
You would be wise to consider doing the same.
Oh, also, if you haven’t read the book, you should do that. Because it is equally as amazing.