The Martian online movie review - Marring a great story
REVIEW OF MARTIAN MOVIE
I will start by saying that I read the book this is based on. I am not one of those people who always think the book is better than the movie; American Psycho is one of my favorite movies and I think Christian Bale's performance along with Mary Harmon's direction make it more enjoyable than the book (although the book is more twisted and perhaps a bit deeper).
To summarize my review, the movie-making establishment has yet again marred an interesting and inspiring story. The book had a wonderfully realist and analytical view of a marooning story, which was over-glamorized and under-directed by the director (shame on Ridley Scott). The faults can be found in this adaptation in every aspect of the film. It should be considered a disappointment and the only saving grace is the original story, which should have a much better movie made of it some day. If I am ever in the position to make it, I will.
Let's start with the casting. Matt Damon is a fantastic actor but this is not a role for him. In the book, Mark Watney is an engineer sent to space and, truthfully, a nerd. As smart as I know Matt Damon to be and as many intelligent roles as he has had, he does not personify the Watney from the book. He does the serious parts pretty well (although it sounds like he is dumbing it down all the time, which is probably the screen writing's fault) but as soon as he tries to tell a Watney joke, it falls flat. That's because he isn't nailing the role. In my mind, the main role should go to someone who is nerdy and who can pull off sarcasm better. I would go with an unrecognizable actor who fits the role because what I loved about the book was how I felt like I rediscovered how cool engineering is, not how cool Matt Damon is.
The rest of the cast is also terrible. Most of the actors and actresses are just your stockyard Hollywood actors; pretty and over-dramatic. Of all the parts, Vincent Kapoor and Bruce Nguyen are actually well-acted, maybe Teddy. Otherwise, you could replace any one of those actors with another and it wouldn't change much.
Then let's go to the set design and cinematography. Space travel is not glamorous, nor should it be portrayed in that way. Even Interstellar overdoes it, and I believe what made the story of the Martian so great was how real it felt. It's like reading a biography. Spaceships shouldn't have extra space in the hallways (the Hermes is huge), the "gym" room shouldn't exist (think of the actual international space-station's set up; the treadmill just extends down from the wall), and the HAB and Hermes have ridiculous amounts of internal volume. Every cubic inch of space inside a shuttle costs a ridiculous amount of money. It makes moot points that Teddy has against creating another Ares mission when they are spending extra money on a crazy T-shaped table for discussions for a ship with 6 crew.
Also, in reality, graphical user interfaces (GUIs) don't animate like they do in the movie; that serves no purpose in reality. They should also not be uniformly blue all the time. They also don't project onto people's faces. Also, NASA doesn't have fancy lecture halls with light bars around the desks and a metal engraved floor (I'm pretty sure); it is probably pretty basic since they should be spending their money on space exploration. All of these things pull me away from the story, which is in essence, how do you survive when you have nothing and nobody. Surrounded by all this beautifully but insensibly designed technology and space, why should we feel for this astronaut? If movie makers were to tell a story about the colonization of America, would they all be wearing dry cleaned, beautifully sewn dresses and have a big old yacht with plenty of space for everyone to hang out? Why doesn't Mark Watney's spacesuit have any dirt on it after 2 years on a dry, dirt covered planet?
A small note about sound design: interfaces also don't beep like they do in this movie. Also, bombs made in 39 minutes attached to a lighting panel do not beep as if on a timer (why waste time on that). I feel that none of these things add to the story as I'd love it and serve to detract from the realism of it. Want to make a good movie about traveling to Mars? Make it feel real. Direct it as if it were a documentary. Think like Kubrick did 40 years ago: Does space have sound? Do spaceship GUIs only have one color when representing complex data? Ridiculous.
Lastly, they butchered the book. They cut out or shortened all of the bits that actually make this story interesting. Driving for 3200km on a planet no one else exists on deserves more than a footnote. How about when the rover crashes entering the crater? That was the suspense of the ending. Loneliness; feeling like he missed his window. Where is that in the movie? Every time there is some over-dramatic pause in the film, take that out and replace it with some part of the story that was actually written.
Overall, it's sad because I was excited to see this movie having loved the book. It's even more sad that people might think that the book wasn't that great because the movie was even just on par. Hollywood, you ruined another story, I just wish people would stop paying you to do it.