Editor’s Note: I started this Top 10 list a while back and one film that I watched since it was started merits a place in my top 10. It’s technically tied with this entry and will be the one that follows The Martian.
Back towards the end of 2014, after I had received a Kindle for my birthday, one book kept coming up at the top of Amazon’s Recommendations: Andy Weir’s “The Martian”. For a bit, I kept choosing other books, being a little turned off by what seemed like a very technical, very heavy read. When a coworker started reading it, he immediately recommended it, so I gave it a shot, and it quickly became one of my favorite reads of the past 5 years. The film adaptation is just as fun and a remarkably faithful adaptation.
In the near future, the latest Ares mission to Mars is just starting, when a severe dust storm kicks up, effectively putting a premature end to the mission. On the way to the ship to bring the crew home, botanist Mark Watney is separated from his crewmates via a large piece of debris and the rest presume him dead and leave him on the Mars surface. Spoiler alert: Watney’s alive! The rest of the film is about what Watney needs to do in order to survive long enough for NASA to come up with a plan to save him.
Space has always fascinated me, and The Martian does a great job of making this feel like it’s a movie grounded in reality. It doesn’t hurt that the source material does a great job of doing the same, and while the movie doesn’t delve as deep into the technical aspects of creating water or refitting the Rovers to make long journeys, it does a great job in allowing you to trust that the science and math behind it is sound. It throws a bunch of stuff at you, but it never loses its audience; this is, after all, a popcorn movie, and it’s a riveting one at that.
Matt Damon is the perfect actor to play Mark Watney, and really, I can say the same for the entire cast. Half of this movie’s success is primarily about how well they were able to nail the casting, but Mark Watney is obviously the main focus of the film, and Damon has the kind of gravitas you need. He’s confident without being cocky and he has just the right amount of comedic timing to hit the novel’s ability to keep things light.
One of the main highlights of the novel and something they really did well in this film is what’s done on Earth. The race against time to try and find a way to save Watney is such a great part of both the book and film and the cast on Earth is perfect. The only thing I would say is that Kristen Wiig’s character was written out just a little bit more than I would have liked. As the PR Director, she was a no-nonsense, straight-talker in the book and she just kind of gets lost in the background in the adaptation. Understandably, she’s most likely cut for time, but I would have liked to see her a little more dynamic.
It’s rare that a film can achieve what The Martian does when it comes to putting it up against the source material. Most of the book is intact here, save for some science stuff and some more moments of peril, but it’s as good as I could have hoped this film would be and one of the most fun movies of 2015. And it looks incredible, too.