I don't read many books. I should read more. After finishing up The Martian just in time to see the film, I found myself amazed that such a work of modern literature was available, and written by a likeminded person. It feels rare to find someone who has the same pingpong thought pattern as me — aside from Merlin Mann. Andy Weir did a phenomenal job with his first novel, from the research to the characters to the dialogue. It took me places I forgot existed. The film did not.
One paragraph in, I'm that guy no one likes, the one who starts talking about why the book was better. Well, it just was. I don't like absolutes, so I won't say it always is. To me, the Harry Potter film series was just as captivating as the novels. The details were kept well enough that I didn't spring out of my chair with a raised index finger. But with The Martian, things didn't quite end up as I had expected. Maybe it was the expectations that led me there. Maybe it was the imaginative reading style I employ (everyone should). The subjective details don't matter so much as the objective ones — at least not to anyone reading this — so I'll set them in the tmp folder where they belong.
First, if you haven't read the novel or seen the film and you have some sort of deep desire to learn more about a theoretical Martian habitat, see Matt Damon a bit angry, or read a lot about botany, you may wish to skip the rest of this review. I don't plan to go into much detail, but there are some plot points in my mental outline of this. So away we go!
The main things I enjoyed about the novel were: Its dedication to science, character development, consistent sense of humor, ability to transport my imagination to Mars, and sense of integrity. That last one is key. I loved the book because it was raw. The film had a lot of polished elements in it, from the completely different end of the rescue to the excluding of two main conflict points (the drill learned up against the table breaking the Pathfinder, and the storm that Watney wasn't prepared for during his journey to the Ares 4 MAV). Polished elements create something that is, stereotypically, mainstream. And The Martian's plot is not stereotypical, nor is it mainstream. I don't think it attempted to appeal to the general public, but I think many people can enjoy it.
Other than my main quibble, there are several things I think the film did very well: Visualization, believability, and choice of cast. Development of the characters felt lacking in most ways. Poor Rich Purnell got very little screen time, and Mindy Park didn't get nearly enough recognition for all her hard work. They didn't even mention the fact that CNSA made a deal with NASA to get a Chinese man on Mars in the next Ares mission, which I thought was pretty awesome. I also liked all the snarky messages Watney sent to NASA, but they got censored because PG-13.
Anyway, I'm getting off point it seems. I enjoyed the film, but it didn't take me anywhere. My sensors stopped it from being able to once they noticed it wasn't as vulnerable as it could have been. When things didn't validate, I quickly went into "This looks nice" mode and stayed there, admiring the various shades of #DB8335. I also thought Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor (whose character is Venkat Kapoor, by the way), Jessica Chastain, and Donald Glover's performances were top-notch. But I wouldn't watch it again. It just made me want to go read the book once more and relive all those great moments.
I think I will.