The trailer for the highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian went live yesterday, and gave us our first in-depth glimpse at Ridley Scott’s latest science fiction vision. The Martian is essentially a one-man show, as a novel. About 80% of the book is spent on the surface of Mars with stranded astronaut Mark Watney, detailing his struggle to survive long enough for a rescue team to reach him. The other 20% of the book is spent either with the ground crew, and all the international debates over how much money and resources one man’s life is worth, or with the rest of Watney’s crew, on their ship in between Earth and Mars.
It’s difficult to tell from a trailer what any film is going to be like, and they can be deceptive (ahem… Phantom Menace), so any sort of deep analysis of what the Fox marketing machine put together to sell Scott’s film has to be done with that in mind. But it does seem that the film version is very well designed, with a top-notch cast (Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover all join Matt Damon as Watney). But, it does portray the film as being essentially balanced, dramatically speaking, between Earth, Mars and the spacecraft traveling between them, rather than focusing almost entirely on Watney. This may be a product of marketing-based editing, or a genuine artistic choice made by writer Drew Goddard and Ridley Scott.
One of the most effective elements of the novel is the fact that we, as readers, don’t get to hear another perspective on Watney’s situation for about 100 pages. It’s just Watney’s diary, and his own observations. Only much later are we filled in on how Earth feels about the lost astronaut or how the rest of his crew feels, having to leave him behind on Mars during an emergency and presuming him dead. A very effective part of the book is the question of how, or if, Watney is going to survive (he wonders this himself, calling his new “project” the “Mark Watney Doesn’t Die” program), and the scientific innovations he has to produce in order to secure food and water. These would be difficult scenes to adapt to the cinema, since they’re essentially long descriptions of scientific principles and procedures that in reality would take only moments to physically execute.
But as long as Goddard and Scott keep their collective eye on the strengths of The Martian: its sympathetic lead character, its scientific robustness, its thrilling, realistic portrayal of ethics and dedication on a global scale, this film will be a great treat when it’s released in November.