The Martian – film & novel review

The Martian has been in the news a lot recently with the nominations and awards it received at the 2016 Oscars. One things a lot of people don’t happen to realize is that it’s also an incredibly popular novel. (Why don’t people seem to know this? It’s awesome!)

So today, I’ll be reviewing both the film and the novel. This is my first book review, so I’ve decided to section it off into the following categories: plot, characters and writing style.

First, the novel.

Plot – 10/10

Right off the bat from reading the summary on the back of the book cover, I was hooked. The premise of a Robinson Crusoe/ Castaway sci-fi book thrilled me immensely. Essentially, Mark Watney, astronaut and crew member of Ares 3, has been left behind by the remaining five members of his crew due to a sandstorm that endangered everyone. Oh, and I forgot to mention something: he’s been stranded on MARS. He then uses his skills in botany and engineering to figure out a way he can survive for four+ years on the barren planet.

If you aren’t already dying to figure out how he does this, you should be.

In accordance with one of Kurt Vonnegut’s rules of writing, the author of The Martian, Andy Weir, is a complete sadist when it comes to describing what happens to Watney. Just when you think he’s in the clear, another terrible mistake will be made and he screws himself over. And over. And over. Yet still, you become incredibly attached to Watney as a character seeing as the majority of the novel is written from the perspective of the crew log Watney keeps on him during the duration of his abandonment.

Does he survive? I don’t know, read the book and find out!

(Also, if you are a fan of The Martian, PLEASE check out Weir’s short story “The Egg”. You will not regret it.)

Characters – 9/10

As I said before, most of the story is written through Watney’s perspective. His characteristics are defined through both his actions, dialogue and communication with both his crew and NASA while he is stranded. He is, to phrase it technically, a bit of a smart ass. He makes fun of himself constantly, as is illustrated beautifully in the novel’s opening line: “I’m pretty much fucked.”

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He finds himself making light of the situation constantly, which I found to be incredibly realistic of someone put in his position. I know a lot of critics of the book say that he would have been going crazy from the isolation and desperation Watney surely felt, but I disagree. Thinking through this logically, Watney was screened to be an astronaut after years and years of training. I’m sure a large portion of that training include psychiatric evaluations to ensure he wouldn’t lose his head when placed in desperate situations. Even his own doctor explains in the novel that the fact he is seemingly “keeping his cool” throughout his situation is in accordance with his character.

In terms of character development, Watney is a perfect example of how to develop a fun, intelligent, smart-mouthing and sarcastic guy into a “survivor”. I was moved when his log began including descriptions of how he begins to lose hope, how he “weeps like a child” at certain moments, how he felt weak when he first began receiving communication from NASA. It was eloquently and subtly written, and I was really pleased with how he grew as a character, especially emotionally, without losing his main characteristics.

My only wish is that they had shown some of the other characters developing. This novel does take place over the span of four years after all.

Writing – 8.5/10

Weir, I love you.

His brilliant explanations of all things scientific (especially the part where Watney tries to manufacture water using oxygen and hydrogen) is easy to follow regardless of your background, which I appreciated. Also, it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about. Weir has a background in electrical engineering, computer programming and classical writing. And let me tell you, he definitely did his research for this book. I couldn’t find a single fault in the logic, and I know that critics of the book have pointed out that hypothetically, all of the events that transpire can potentially occur.

His writing reminds me of Jodi Picoult’s, so if you’re a fan of hers, The Martian is definitely for you.

Overall – 9/10

Solid novel, highly recommend. My only real complaint is the lull in the plot about two thirds through the novel when Watney is ignored for several chapters while Weir focussed the story around what was going on on earth for a while. I know why he made the choice to shift the focus from Watney (I mean, just how interesting can four years on a desolate planet all by yourself be?) but it still would have been nice to have some updates from him.

And now, the film. (Keep in mind that since I’ve already covered plot, characters and realism, I won’t be commenting on those categories down below.)

 

Cinematography – 9/10

Again, an amazing score for an amazing camera crew. I kept forgetting that the movie wasn’t actually filmed on Mars!

I especially loved the scenes taking place within the spaceship that Watney should have been on. The rotation of the ship was so beautifully shot and edited that I physically found myself getting increasingly dizzy while watching the film. Honourable mentions to the scenes of Mars that were all shot in Wadi Rum, which is known for its alien landscape.

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I also liked the variety of shots (i.e. when Watney is in the Rover and speaking to his camcorder vs. the establishing/ overhead shots of the barren planet).

Soundtrack – 7/10

Sorry disco lovers, but I am not a fan of seventies funk. To be fair, neither is Watney and the fact that all he has to listen to on Mars is ABBA and Co. really adds to the comedic relief. There are certain scenes where the disco music actually works, and those are the scenes that are evidently my favourite.

The following songs are included in the soundtrack (and are the best ones):

  • David Bowie – Starman
  • Vicki Sue Robinson – Turn the Beat Around
  • Donna Summer – Hot Stuff

Acting – 8/10

I really love Matt Damon as an actor, but I’m trying to remain impartial for my analysis of his acting here. My verdict is that he did a fantastic job, especially considering that he had to portray such a complex character. To be completely honest, he wasn’t the face I was envisioning when I pictured Watney in my head (I read the book first) but I wasn’t disappointed.

My only critic on his part is that I find he is constantly playing the damsel in distress (remember Saving Private Ryan? Interstellar?)

Other well-known actors in this film include Kristen Wigg, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara and Jessica Chastain.

HUGE issue I had with the casting was whoever decided that Donald Glover would make a good Rich Purnell. Rich Purnell is supposed to be twice Glover’s age and is supposed to display classic character traits of someone with Aspergers. Glover just looked like a clumsy, simple nerd as opposed to a complex genius who ends up the “real” hero of the story. Seriously? A rapper?

Overall Experience – 8.5/10

While I did love the movie and completely believe it did the novel justice, I couldn’t get over Glover’s appearance to tie the two media in this category. The book doesn’t surpass the film in any way except with Rich Purnell’s character, and I cannot stress this enough.

If you liked the book, you’ll like the movie and vica versa.

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