The Martian has a reputation: Science enthusiasts — even more than science fiction enthusiasts — think the novel is the best thing since the Large Hadron Collider.

Of course, it takes more than a lot of scientific details to make a great novel. And it’s even more of a challenge to turn a great novel in to a great movie — or even a good one.

Turning to my go-to community of film-loving writers, I find some enthusiastic responses to Ridley Scott’s film — which is built on an adapted screenplay by Drew “Cabin in the Woods” Goddard. But I also found some expressions of frustration and disappointment that remind me of how many “event movies” like this one have failed to live up to the hype for me. (Can anybody say… Interstellar?)

King of the Geeks, Drew “Moriarty” McWeeny at HitFix, turns in a review that suggests this movie might restore my interest in the work of Ridley “I Once Spent a Few Years Making Masterpieces, But Decided It Wasn’t for Me” Scott:

Working from an aggressively smart and funny screenplay by Drew Goddard, adapted from the also smart and funny book by Andy Weir, “The Martian” is so confident, so relaxed, and so completely sure-footed that it almost looks effortless. It takes a genuine master craftsman to take something as complex and difficult as this and make it look easy, but it also takes an artist with a great ear to take something as dense with exposition as this is and make it practically sing.

So how does the guy who fumbled “Prometheus” and “Exodus” so hard that it felt like he was trying to sabotage the studio turn around and absolutely nail this in terms of tone?

Ken Morefield at 1MoreFilmBlog writes:

Towards the end I was ready to forgive all the streamlining and predict that The Martian would end up somewhere on my annual list of Top 10 favorites. But the end was a tipping point as far as my own reader-response. It was small, but it was so needless. Then the needlessness of it left me wondering if Scott, whose films post-Blade Runner have been good but keep getting watered down, has lost faith in his audience to accept or process the least  bit of thematic complexity. The film’s epilogue reads less like a humbling celebration of human cooperation and more like a motivational speech from a veteran selling American exceptionalism.

And Jaime Christley at Slant gets right to the heart of what frustrates me about so much Interstellar-like science-fiction:

It hardly seems interested in its characters or in any depiction of their work, settling instead for types of characters and kinds of scenes…. The Martian goes in for the idea of texture and tics and human behavior, but there’s no conviction, and no real push for eccentricity. What’s left is a string of Pavlovian prompts to ensure that our emotional cues arrive on schedule.

Nor is there much awe. … When Watley muses to his video diary about the billions of years that’d passed on Mars before he set foot on this or that hill, he’s only right in fact. In spirit, in imagination, we’d already conquered it, and Scott’s intrepid botanist is merely a johnny-come-lately, in a film where curiosity is in shorter supply than the oxygen.

But I’ll go see the film anyway — probably because I’m encouraged by Alissa Wilkinson‘s carefully modulated praise at Christianity Today:

In a blockbuster world ruled by dystopias and conspiracies and shadowy bureaucracies, The Martian‘s cheerful attitude about the general decentness of people comes across as almost a throwback. Unlike nearly every sci-fi film of the recent past, The Martian doesn’t spend any time wondering if humanity deserves to survive. It takes it for granted that we do, as long as we can figure out the mathematical equation that will help us do so. We survive because we solve problems, and we work together to do so, sometimes even with people whom politicians might tell us are our sworn enemies.

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