I first read Andy Weir’s The Martian when he released it on the Kindle for the minimum allowed price of .99 cents. Not since Crichton’s Jurassic Park has there been a book I’ve enjoyed re-reading as much as the story of Mark Watney surviving on Mars and NASA’s mission to bring him home. When I heard Ridley Scott was making the movie with Matt Damon as Watney, I got excited. The end result is the best movie about Mars ever made, and one of the best movies of 2015.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of The Martian, it opens on the 18th day of the third manned Mars mission Ares III. When a powerful storm hits the habitat (or Hab) the crew has to abort and get to the Mars Ascent Vehicle (or MAV) to escape. During their walk to the vehicle, Mark Watney is struck by a communications antenna and believed to be killed. The crew leaves without knowing he survived, stranding him on Mars.
The next two hours and twenty minutes can best be described as Cast Away meets Apollo 13. Cast Away in that Watney decides to not give up and must MacGuyver his way on Mars to survive long enough for NASA to rescue him, and Apollo 13 in that NASA on Earth has to figure out the best way to bring him home in the time they figure he has left on the surface.
Weir’s novel could get very technical on the scientific side of things, and that’s toned down a little bit in the movie to not lose people. But the overall story and sequence of events are very close to that of the book, something that’s pretty rare when a movie is adapted from a popular novel. Anything they changed from the book is, in my opinion, actually an improvement as there are some things in the novel that could’ve made the third act not play out as well as it does on screen.
There’s been some debate on whether or not some Mars stuff from the ending should’ve been included in the film, but I’m actually leaning against it. Towards the end of the story when Watney is headed to the Schiaparelli crater he shorts out the Pathfinder and loses contact with NASA. That means he doesn’t know about the second big storm, but he’s still able to avoid it, and then later he survives the rover rolling over while going into the crater. That stuff created some additional tension and threat at the end of the story, and it was omitted from the movie.
While Ridley Scott is known to sometimes have longer cuts (and you can see the big storm when Watney is driving the rover in the movie), I’m not sure putting that additional threat would improve the ending in any way. In fact it may take away from the pacing and the way the tone is rising in those final scenes of the movie. They also changed the ending from the book making it more exciting and less boring, something Weir himself said of his original ending.
If you’re any kind of space buff, you should be running out to your local theater to see The Martian immediately. It presents a dream future where NASA actually has funding and is running a series of Mars missions that mirror the Apollo moon missions of the 70s. It’s a fantasy world that any fan of space would like to see happen prior to the real NASA beginning the Mars mission in the 2030s.
Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I’d rank The Martian right up there with it. Definitely see it in 3D for the gorgeous Mars vistas. It’s the space movie we’ve been waiting a long time for. Go see it right away!