Why 'The Martian' & 'Interstellar' Aren't As Similar As They Might Seem

Ever since its trailer leaked, Ridley Scott's highly anticipated The Martian has been compared to last year's Interstellar, directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan — so much so that even star Matt Damon (who appears in both films) released a statement differentiating the projects. But, what actually makes The Martian and Interstellar different?

If you looked at posters for The Martian and thought, “Wait, why am I seeing Matt Damon in a space suit again? Didn’t we just do this?”, well, you’re not far off. Both sci-fi flicks feature Damon as an astronaut trapped somewhere in outer space and trying to make his way back to Earth. But, don’t be so easily convinced that the two films have more in common than that (OK, they also have Jessica Chastain in common, but I digress...): According to Damon and Scott, the films and even the characters that Damon plays, are actually pretty different.

If you don't believe me, just ask Damon himself. The actor told Yahoo! UK back in June that he was aware of the similarities before he even signed on to play the lead. "I went in and I said, I really love this script, but my only hesitation is I’ve just done Interstellar, in which I played a dude stranded on a planet. It might be weird if, after taking a year and a half off, I played another dude stranded on a planet." Weird or awesome? He chose the latter (thankfully): "I explained Interstellar to [Scott], and he said ‘The movies are totally f*cking different, this is going to be f*cking fun. Let’s do this!’ He was so infectious, I couldn’t really say no to him." I probably wouldn't be able to say no to Ridley Scott either to be honest.

Scott mentioned Damon's unease about the similarities when the point was brought up again just this past week, after a screening of the film. According to Space.com, "I think he was concerned that he'd done [Interstellar] and that he had been isolated on a planet [in that too]. And he said, 'You think that matters?' and I said, 'I don't know. I need to see the film [Interstellar]. I saw it and thought, 'Nah, the film's great, but I don't think it connects in that way.'"

Perhaps the differences both Damon and Scott are referring to revolve around obvious ones of story line. In Interstellar, Damon plays Dr. Mann, a scientist who gets stranded on an icy planet and awaits rescue. In The Martian, Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut whose been marooned after his crew leaves him on Mars and uses science to survive and eventually find his way back to Earth. OK, OK — the disparities between these two story lines might seem rather nuanced right now, but once you watch the film, you'll get what I mean.

Besides the aforementioned variances and Scott and Damon's rather vague explanation of the two films just "not connecting," there are big reasons why these sci-fi blockbusters are dissimilar. Let's take a look at some of those.

1. Their Tones Are Different

Both Nolan and Scott are known for producing huge, blockbuster flicks. Both are revered in the film industry for being innovative masters of cinema. Nolan, for his effortless portrayal of gritty realism often set against the backdrop of science fiction (Inception) or the world of comics (Dark Knight franchise), and Scott, for showing us the horror side of sci-fi (Alien) and the neo-noir side of futurism (Blade Runner).

When it comes to these films though, there's a definite sense that where Interstellar takes itself seriously, The Martian's not afraid to have fun. Like when Mark Watney looks at his crew and says "I'm still alive. Surpriiiise!" Or, maybe when he drops lines like, "I'm going to have to science the sh*t out of this." Even The Martian's soundtrack proves to be more lighthearted than Nolan's score in Interstellar.

2. The Focus Is On Damon

Damon had a surprisingly small part in Interstellar and didn't even show up in the film until over half way through. The Martian however, will pretty much be 141 minutes of pure Damon on our screen. G'bless.

3. Damon's Character Has More Layers

Because he was given a rather small part in the film, Damon's character wasn't a huge part of Interstellar — but in The Martian, Damon will have to really bring his A-game (you know, Tom Hanks in Castaway style). In order for an audience to sit through a film that's over two hours long and really only following one guy, the main character has to have some depth and dimension. He has to be interesting and multi-faceted.

4. The Martian Was Based On A Book

The Martian is based on Andy Weir's 2011 sci-fi novel of the same name. The book was actually self-published by the author, but did so well that it was purchased and re-released in 2014. Interstellar was written by Nolan and his brother. It's not a super important difference in itself, but a difference worth noting, nonetheless.

5. The Martian Is More Rooted In Science

The author of The Martian wrote the book with science at the forefront of his mind. As a computer programmer himself, Weir wanted his book to be as scientifically accurate as possible. According to reviews, The Martian has stayed true to that same ethos.

6. It's About The Survival Of One Human, Not Humankind

The scope of Interstellar was massive and centered around the premise of saving humankind by repopulating on a different planet. The Martian takes on just a fraction of that story line because more than anything, it's about how Dr. Watney will save himself.

While both sci-fi films are both equally thought provoking and interestingly rendered depictions of outer space, The Martian and Interstellar prove to be autonomous films with separate stories to tell.

Images: 20th Century Fox; Giphy (6)