Okay first off the Martian was my personal book of the year. Secondly I went in to this film with low expectations, really low expectations. After Gladiator Ridley Scott films started to go downhill and by Prometheus it was starting to feel like a power-dive with afterburners. Also in the main role I had doubts about Matt Damon. He isn’t a bad actor but what I mostly associate him with is the Bourne films it a role where the character wasn’t the most expressive. But let us start with the obvious question, is it faithful to the book? Yes, incredibly so, in fact it’s probably one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve ever seen. Not the most faithful, that title goes to Ender’s Game, but with one difference. The Martian is a good film.
What the two books have in common is that the meat of the story is first person, so much of the books is about what is going on in the head of the main character as events happen. It’s something that book can handle fairly easily but film or television – because they are almost inherently third person – struggle with. The Martian works around this via Mark Watney (Matt Damon) addressing the camera directly via video logs and in doing to give us a sense of the man.
Yes there are differences but overwhelmingly they take the form of omissions rather changes. These are understandable and justifiable as this film clocks in at over two hours and frankly it’s a busy film. Coming away from the film I was left with the impression that this book ended up in the hands of people who got what it was about – where science and human drive can take us. I would say one slight problem is that for anyone who has read the book, the sheer faithfulness does mean that it’s harder to get a sense of tension but that might just be me. If you’re wondering which is better, the book or the film, for my money the book, as I said the book has been trimmed to make the run time reasonable, so the book simply has more room to breath.
One thing that I think is also worth noting is the question of women and minorities, this film is pretty good in that regards (although no black women is speaking roles that I can remember) in that we have both women and men who are not white in plot relevant roles. The book, with its female characters and characters with sufficiently un-Anglo Saxon names undoubtedly helped but even ten years ago I suspect the likes of Chastain would have found herself playing a love interest as opposed to a spaceship commander, but perhaps I am being cynical.
So in summary, one worth watching and then if you haven’t read the book, move on to that.