A New York Times bestseller is about to hit theaters, and this time, it’s not a young adult film.
Part “Cast Away,” part “Gravity” and part downright fun, ‘The Martian” is an intense story of survival set on the surface of Mars, where astronaut Mark Watney is left for dead during a desperate evacuation of his crew.
A concept initially known to only a handful of sci-fi readers during its self-publication in 2011, “The Martian” is quickly becoming one of the most anticipated movies of the fall, and a potential victory for original sci-fi filmmaking.
It comes with impressive attachments: juggernaut director Ridley Scott and the Oscar-nominated frontman, Matt Damon, along with a colorful supporting cast including Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
But perhaps “science-fiction” is a misnomer, as “The Martian” more closely resembles science-fact, something author Andy Weir was painstakingly sure to vet. Weir, the son of a particle physicist, thoroughly researched his debut novel, which he began writing in 2009 to ensure its scientific accuracy and plausibility against NASA’s knowledge of Mars and space travel.
That, combined with Weir’s goofy, tenacious and memorable lead character Mark Watney paid off in a big way. Before the book was re-published in 2014, screen rights were optioned and a draft landed on the desk of Scott.
Immediately, Scott saw the potential.
“I was fully engaged enough that I stopped what I was doing, and said, ‘I will do this next,'” Scott told Deadline in a recent interview. “I knew right away what to do with it.”
Known for “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” Scott seems to be the obvious choice for “The Martian.” But he’s not without his fumbles — most notably, his recent film losing streak.
It started with the sort-of “Alien” prequel “Prometheus” in 2012. While it was moderately acclaimed, it fell short of making back its more than $130 million budget at the domestic box office. It also received significant backlash from its audience for what they said were its incoherence, contradictions and shoddy narrative.
He followed up “Prometheus” with “The Counselor” in 2013, an adaptation of the Cormack McCarthy novel, seemingly bound for awards season, only to face abysmal reception from critics and audiences alike. It also didn’t make back its budget in domestic box office, despite having a much smaller, $25 million outlay.
The third letdown was released last Christmas — “Exodus: Gods and Kings” — a $140 million epic that underperformed at the box office, and debuted to allegations of racism and poor “historical” storytelling. To put it bluntly, it seemed like Scott had passed his heyday.
But credit is due to the 77-year-old’s longevity and tenacity as he keeps busy, having directed 13 films in the last 15 years, and producing countless other projects for film and television through his shingle, Scott Free Productions.
“This work is invigorating,” Scott said. “To work is life. I live to work, not work to live.”
Science-fiction is a recurring genre in Scott’s body of work, and “Alien” essentially launched his mainstream career. So, in many ways, it feels fitting the director is returning to his roots for a potential comeback.
“The Martian” currently holds a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes after a little more than 30 reviews in the early going, and had strong positive feedback from the Toronto International Film Festival. Even the New York Times liked it, calling the film the “best work Scott and Damon have done in a decade.”
It still remains to be seen whether it will resonate with general audiences, but word-of-mouth seems to be catching on.
“The Martian,” written by Drew Goddard based on Andy Weir’s book, opens Oct. 2.