The Martian vs. Interstellar (Part I: The Martian) [Spoilers]

Some time ago, a friend of mine saw The Martian. She seemed very iffy on the subject and stated that Interstellar is still her favorite modern sci-fi film. I have seen, and ultimately enjoyed, both films, but my viewings of the two were so far apart that I cannot accurately say which one I liked better without a rewatch of both. As a kneejerk reaction, I told her I enjoyed The Martian more, but I am not sure if that is technically true. As such, I have been inspired to perform a review of both films, I guess we shall see. Part I will be my review of The Martian, Part II will be a review of Interstellar, and Part III will be a comparison and conclusion.

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The Martian is a 2015 science fiction film based upon the novel of name by Andy Weir.It was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard. It starred Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Martian takes place in the near future; Matt Damon plays a NASA astronaut and botanist named Mark Watney. Watney is a crew member on the Ares 3 mission to Mars. After a hectic, destructive sandstorm, Watney is left behind and presumed dead by his distraught colleagues. Watney, unbeknownst to them, survived the sandstorm and must survive long enough to return to Earth on Ares 4. The closest comparison I can make is the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, but in space.

Ridley Scott is to the science-fiction genre what Alfred Hitchcock was to the thriller genre. Scott only has three previous science-fiction films in his filmography, but considering that those are 1979’s Alien1982’s Blade Runnerand 2012’s Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s contributions towards revolutionizing the genre are completely and utterly undebatable and unquestionable.Despite the jury still being out on the redeeming qualities of Prometheus to this day, you can’t really argue Ridley Scott isn’t a sci-fi mastermind after scenes like…

In addition to directing two of the single most iconic genre films ever, Scott has also directed the Oscar-winning historical drama Gladiator, the war film Black Hawk Down, and, although universally panned upon release, Scott’s 2005 historical epic Kingdom of Heaven has been met with widespread critical acclaim upon the release of the director’s cut of the film. He is an extremely talented director who can make great things out of anything, and seeing how Weir’s novel entertained the crap out of me, The Martian had great potential, and it lived up to that potential, in my opinion.

Let no one tell you otherwise, The Martian is a genuinely beautiful film. As a stand-in for Mars, the film was shot in the Wadi Rum valley in Jordan, a cultural landmark under environmental protection by the United Nations. The landscape is just beautiful and, on the plus side, does look a lot like Mars. It is clear that Scott is in his element here. The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is truly breathtaking. Unlike Prometheus, there wasn’t an overuse of CGI, and the practically designed interior design of the Hab as well as the Hermes were very impressive and seemed to be a throwback to the impressive set design from Alien.

In addition to being a marvelous technical achievement, The Martian also benefits from a believable, heartfelt, and hilarious script by Drew Goddard, which draws quite well from the equally as well-constructed novel. The Martian is, by the very nature of the plot, a rather dire and perilous scenario where you would not expect to find any levity. Luckily, Mark Watney is a character who, in addition to being a genius, survives on humor, sarcasm, and most importantly, hope. Weir, and Scott by extension, could have framed The Martian as a dire tale of hopelessness and drama in the face of overwhelming odds, and woven a very cynical tale. Instead, The Martian goes in the complete opposite direction and tells a genuinely uplifting story about positivity, perseverance, and ingenuity in the face of dire and dismal circumstances. Several lines from the novel are transported directly into the film, with the very human and hilarious lines delivered wonderfully by Matt Damon.

The acting in this film is very, very impressive, with standout performances from Damon, Chastain, and Daniels. The most notable scene in terms of acting came early in the film, when Watney is forced to personally remove shrapnel from his abdomen after frantically returning to the HAB. Matt Damon looks as though he is actually in severe pain. It is a truly harrowing scene to watch, and a very impressive one, at that. Sustained, sharp pain that one would feel from having a fractured antenna inside of them would be hard, nearly impossible, for some actors to pull off to the point of believability. It most certainly is believable.

On the subject of believability, much like Weir’s heavily researched novel, The Martian, for the most part, remains both scientifically accurate and accurate to the novel itself. The one issue I have with this film pertains to the last 20 minutes of the film, which contain a complicated action set piece with questionable scientific accuracy and an epilogue in which Watney now trains NASA recruits given the reputation he received throughout the course of the film. I have said this before and will continue to say it; when adapting material from one medium to another, it will oftentimes be necessary to change or alter things from the original medium (a 369 page novel) to appropriately convert it to the other (a 141 minute film). You, therefore, cannot, and should not, judge a film by its rigid following of the original material, and should judge the film upon its own merits. In The Martian, the problem is not the fact that the film diverges from the novel, it is the fact that these sequences are included because nearly every blockbuster movie of this type has to 1. have an intense climax and 2. a happy ending. The film’s suspenseful and frantic ending scene is serviceable enough and there is nothing wrong with it on the surface, but it completely goes against the intellectually driven, scientifically based, well thought out narrative established by the film, and is a rather glaring blemish on what would otherwise be an almost flawless movie and faithful novel adaptation.

The novel ends with Watney going home, a happy enough ending in my opinion. The film takes it a step further and, though I assumed that Watney would end up in a similar situation upon finishing the novel, the film takes it one step too far and ends up preaching on the themes established in the film. Though a very minor issue, I feel as though the final speech given by Watney to the NASA cadets could have been tweaked in order to make it feel more like a technical classroom rather than a commencement speech.

The Martian is an impressive film that I feel was more than worthy of its praise. It is a marvelous technical achievement by Scott, a director known for achievement, and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who will more than likely be on the radar of film buffs after this. The script to the film, barring a few missteps, is excellent and made for one of the funnier movies of the year, as well as one of the most engrossing. The Martian is a very good film and everyone would be wise to give it a watch, if you haven’t already.

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