Go and see The Martian, then read this. Or just go and see The Martian.
So I’ve just returned from having seen The Martian, and I have to say I rather enjoyed it. In fact, I would go as far to say I loved it. There are many great things to say about the film, from the witty script to the fantastic performances (particularly Matt Damon as the stranded astronaut Mark Watney), however one of the things I appreciated the most about it was all the things it chose not to do. So for bit of a change, I’m going to review this film by listing all the crap things it could have done, but chose not to do instead. It goes without saying that if you haven’t seen The Martian yet, this next bit contains loads of spoilers, so don’t read on if you know what’s good for you!
No, I really mean it. This next bit has serious spoilers in it, and I don’t want to hear any whinging about how you weren’t sufficiently warned. And if you haven’t seen the film and are thinking to yourself ‘well, I’m not going to see the film anyway, so I might as well read on’, that’s a bad idea. See the film. It’s great. Then come back here and read the next bit. It really is that good.
Last chance. Spoilers ahoy.
Okay, let’s go:
1) No protracted first act leading up to the bit where things start to go wrong
A lesser film might have decided to start at the mission launch, or the first touch-down on Mars with some emotional speech from the commander about how they are the first humans to set foot on the planet. Instead, The Martian ditches all that, and within two minutes the setup is complete – there are some astronauts on Mars, and everything is starting to go wrong.
2) No member of the crew goes insane / disagrees with their orders / tries to sabotage the mission
We all know this trope in sci-fi: everything’s going fine, but then a member of crew loses it and screws everything up. This film had ample opportunity to have a crew member go nuts (in particular when they take a vote about whether to spend another couple of years in space to get Mark Watney back), but it chose not to go down this road. All the astronauts just followed orders and did their job, which was refreshing.
3) No family for Mark to worry about
This was a great omission. There were no scenes of Watney welling up as he held a photo of his wife, or crying as he watches footage of his kids (I’m looking at you, Interstellar). He just cracked jokes and got on with surviving.
4) And he didn’t go mad either
Again, the film had ample excuse to have Watney slowly going mad, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. The guy’s alone on Mars for a ridiculous amount of time, so the filmmakers had every excuse to go down this road. But they didn’t, which is good.
5) No attempts to shoehorn in self-indulgent artistic shots for no reason
Like that bit in Gravity where Sandra Bullock adopts the fetal position. I mean really.
6) Nobody died.
I was really expecting at least one death in this film at some point, and a cheap death at that. Perhaps the captain would sacrifice herself to save Watney at the last minute to make up for the fact that she left him on the planet. Or some arbitrary accident would kill a member of the crew. This would have been deeply unsatisfying, given they all spent so much time going back again for the sake of one man, so losing one crew member would have rendered the rescue mission pointless, returning with a zero-sum total. I was really expecting someone to buy it, but they didn’t. Which was nice.
So that’s my list of everything The Martian could have done wrong, but didn’t. If you haven’t seen it, then I’m very disappointed that you have read this far, despite my warnings. I told you there were spoilers, but you didn’t listen did you? Did you?!?! Now go away and think about what you’ve done.