Pros: brilliant performance, shows all the people behind the scenes of a space mission, accurate science for most of the film
Cons: not as tense if you’ve read the book, ending diverges
When Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind on Mars by his fellow Ares 3 crew during a ferocious sand storm, he must work hard to survive until a rescue attempt can be made.
This is a wonderful man against nature story closely adapted from the novel by Andy Weir. It shows the resilience and determination of someone faced with terrible odds, told with a wry sense of humour and, when things inevitably go wrong, despair followed by renewed hope.
Matt Damon gives an amazing performance as Watney, showing a full gamut of emotions. I was also impressed by the supporting cast, particularly Donald Glover as the astrophysicist who figures out an important solution. I loved that the cast was large and diverse, showing both the number of people necessary to run space missions and the fact that space should be a global endeavour, not run or controlled by a single nation.
While the storm that forces the crew off of Mars isn’t scientifically accurate, most of the rest of the things that happen in the film are (with the noted exceptions of the ‘Iron Man’ manoeuvre at the end of the film and the spaciousness of the Hermes).
If you’ve read the book the film isn’t as tense, since you know what’s going to happen. The film also trims out some of the crises Watney faces in the novel. Having said that, they did an excellent job adapting the source material, keeping Watney’s sense of humour as well as showing all the dangers he faces. There was a bit of unnecessary repetition at times with relaying messages, where both the writer and reader would say the same lines out loud. On the other hand, I liked how they showed the NASA team testing things on earth at the same time Watney’s doing them on Mars.
There’s a bit of divergence in the ending. The film’s does something unscientific but then has a better denouement than the book.
I saw the film in 3D. I wasn’t thrilled with the 3D format I saw it in (polarized glasses), as it took my eyes several minutes to adjust to the effect, and later in the film I had to adjust to it again a few times (not sure this is a criticism of the film or the glasses as I’ve never had this happen before and I’ve seen several 3D movies with different glasses). The effects, though not filmed for 3D worked well with the technology. The first time you see the Hermes space ship is magnificent. There’s a decent number of shots that gave good depth of field to make it worth the extra if you like 3D.
I thought the Ares Live marketing campaign for the film was brilliantly done. I also appreciated that the footage in those trailers wasn't in the film. The videos added to the film if you saw them, but weren't required to enjoy the film itself.
If you like science in your movies, give this a go. It’s very well filmed and highly entertaining.