TIFF 2015: The Martian
Certainly one of the most anticipated events of the festival this year was the World Premiere of Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir, Scott has assembled an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and many more. What we end up with is an exciting and highly enjoyable survival adventure that is one of Scott’s best sci-fi films in years.
After an intense dust storm has forced the Ares III mission to evacuate, Astronaut Mark Watney has been stranded on Mars. Presumed dead by his crewmates after being struck by debris, they leave him there so that their own safety is not compromised. However, even though a metal rod has punctured his suit and he was knocked unconscious, the blood from the wound sealed the breach and he managed to survive. Alone, he must now use his extensive knowledge of chemistry and his background as a botanist to figure out how to survive long enough to be rescued. The one problem: NASA doesn’t know he’s alive. Through incredible ingenuity and clear thinking, Watney figures out how to communicate with Earth and a rescue plan over the span of many months is put into place. What results is a daring and thrilling film that can be summed up as Cast Away meets Apollo 13 meets Macgyver.
The novel, which started out as a self-published book before catching the attention of a traditional publishing house, has been gaining in popularity over the past two years. It caught the attention of Damon and Scott and they were determined to turn it into a film faithful to the original source material. As with any book-to-movie adaptation, the biggest worry is always the inevitable changes that must come with the change in medium. Diehard fans of The Martian novel may be disappointed with the film in what they chose to keep and what they decided was expendable. So much of what made the novel enjoyable, Watney problem solving his way to survival, has been cut for the sake of time and simplicity. It’s disappointing just how much doesn’t make it into the film. However, the film works as it is, as a separate entity from the book, so it is still a likable ride. Damon still delivers plenty of Watney’s funny lines that were a favourite element of the book.
With the assistance of NASA scientists, the filmmakers have created a believable space adventure that appears to be as accurate as possible when it comes to science fiction. The likely dissection of the film after its release will surely raise concerns over certain aspects of authenticity but in the end, that doesn’t really matter. The film will certainly entertain and be enjoyable for audiences everywhere.
In comparison to, and as possible improvements to the book, the film version has managed to breathe more life into the NASA characters and has added material to the story that gives it a more rounded and satisfying closure. Some of the weaker elements of the book were the characters that weren’t Watney. They didn’t have a lot of personality or depth to them but the film has changed that. An added epilogue to the end of the film also allows for a better conclusion to the story. The ending of the novel feels abrupt and this fixes that.
Because the film has been executed strongly, this, along with other recent sci-fi films such as Interstellar, has the ability to inspire an interest in space again. Gone are the days of wonder and fascination that children felt towards exploration and this could help rekindle that. It could also help push NASA, the US Government and even space agencies around the world towards investing in manned missions to Mars. Beyond just being an entertaining and impressive film, which this is, The Martian has the ability to embolden a new generation.