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“The Martian” is an out-of-this-world thrill

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“The Martian” by Andy Weir is a 2011 science-fiction novel that serves as the basis for the new eponymous film.

In an unspecified point in the future, NASA has been sending manned missions to Mars under the ARES program. During the ARES III mission, a sandstorm hits, forcing the crew to evacuate the planet. One astronaut, Mark Watney, is struck by debris and presumed dead. Only after rest of the crew launches is it revealed that Watney survived, his blood and the debris serving to temporarily seal the hole in his EVA suit. Mark stumbles back to the base (referred to as the HAB) and patches his wounds before taking stock of the supplies he has left and figuring out if survival is even remotely possible.

Promotional poster for "The Martian" film | Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Promotional poster for “The Martian” film | Image courtesy of Creative Commons

The book is gripping, fast paced, and full of nerdy references that filled my heart with glee. The story alternates between Mark’s point-of-view through mission logs and a third-person narrative of events back on Earth. The main pull of the story is that there is no true antagonist other than Mars itself (well, possibly Teddy Sanders, but he has his reasons). It offers an unbelievably optimistic view of humanity and its willingness to go above and beyond to help each other. Sometimes, however, we need a reminder that that kind of optimism is possible.

The movie stays relatively faithful to its source material. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, perfectly capturing the wry humor and unflagging hopefulness of the character. Other stars include Jessica Chastain as Commander Melissa Lewis and Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders with Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, and Aksel Hennie as the rest of the ARES III crew. The entire cast is phenomenal and the movie definitely deserves points for accurate casting.

Unfortunately, the middle of the film lags. Whereas the book never lost its pace, the movie doesn’t

Matt Damon as Mark Watney during his journey across Mars | Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Matt Damon as Mark Watney during his journey across Mars | Image courtesy of Creative Commons

seem to quite know what to do with Mark’s journey across Mars. Elements of tension are cut and he appears to arrive at the ARES IV landing site without difficulty. Additionally, the film’s ending differed from that of the book’s. Perhaps it was to heighten tension, but in general it was an unnecessary change. The story was intense enough already. Furthermore, it is easier to enjoy the movie if you have already read the book: there is a lot of sciencey stuff happening that the movie does not slow down to explain in the way that the book does.

As a whole, “The Martian” was an entertaining, intense read with just the right balance of humor, science, and danger. The book earns 5 out of 5 stars while I would score the movie at 4 out of 5.

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“The Martian” is an out-of-this-world thrill