The Martian (2015) ****

Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, The Martian is a Sci-Fi film based on Andy Weir's 2011 novel of the same title. Adapted to the screen by Drew Goddard, The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut specializing in Botany, who finds himself stranded on Mars, mistakenly left for dead by his fellow teammates. The plot follows Watney’s fight for survival as well as NASA’s attempts at rescuing him.
The Martian is more than just a Sci-Fi film; it is the ultimate Nerd Hero flick if ever was there such a genre. Watney, the protagonist, is faced with a string of life-threatening challenges which he needs to overcome using his academic knowledge as well as MacGyver-like wits. That being said, The Martian (book and film alike) carry an optimistic tune about a world coming together to help a fellow human stranded gazillion miles away. The story tries, and to a large degree succeeds, in capturing the excitement shared by humanity when that first step was taken on the moon.
Much has been said about writer Weir’s fixation with making the science behind the story accurate. In fact, NASA supported the filmmakers in their efforts, viewing this as a golden PR opportunity for promoting space exploration. This attention to technical and scientific details makes reading the novel, at times, feel more like reading a scientific paper, but in the film it helps with obtaining credibility. By the way, one major flow in terms of inaccuracy, relates to the thin atmosphere of the planet; that would made powerful storms as depicted in the film unlikely. But let’s not be picky; after all, there is fiction in Science Fiction.
Some praises at hand, starting with the screen adaptation. Though IMHO the book is still better than the film as its written, for the most part, as a personal diary and thus rich in thoughts and details, that cannot be transcribed well onto the big screen. Thus using the visual medium correctly rather than trying to portray the novel word for word, Goddard and Scott took a different approach. The novel was striped to its bare plot components while maintaining the essence of the story. The result is satisfying.
Ridley Scott, a seasoned and very capable director is taking a break from his blood-bath movies of recent years, and proves he can pace drama, navigating through real human emotions, supported by strong visuals.
The casting, for the most part, is very good. Matt Damon, one of my personal favorite actors of his generation, is perfect for the role. Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, and Kate Mara, to mention a few, are also well casted. I was disappointed to see Kapoor, the NASA mission director, not being casted as a person of Hindu descent (as in the book). Art direction and cinematography both support the story well.
All things considered the novel is still worth reading as it is richer and more thought-provoking. I also recommend the audio-book version which enjoys a good narrator.
Round and about, my favorite book quote was missing in the film version: "Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped."