The Martian – Book and Film

Last night I went over to the Cocteau theater to listen to George R.R. interview Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN.  I had read the book several months ago and enjoyed it enormously because I’m a giant space geek.  It’s fun and funny and makes science and scientists cool.  It’s also a very short book so I finished it with in two days.

I then went off with GRRM and others to see the movie.  Which was great fun and inspiring, and apart from making cuts was a very faithful adaptation of the book.  Afterward George and I discussed the cuts.  He, of course, wished they hadn’t been made.  I thought they were perfect.  Basically George wanted more of trials and tribulations that Watney endured on his drive from the Hab and the landing site to the other crater where a return vehicle was waiting.  It consisted of more big storms, and getting tipped into a crater.  But here’s the thing.  We’d already seen one big storm, and by this point in the movie we wanted to see how launching a man into space while under a tarp was going to work out.  It was a pacing issue and the screenwriter and Ridley Scott made the right decision.

As for George’s constant whine about doing “faithful” adaptations.  Sometimes you can.  In this case it’s a short novel with a handful of characters and a very linear story.  It’s the Perils of Pauline done very, very well.  Those are easy stories to adapt — it’s one-damn-thing-after-another.  Other books don’t lend themselves to that.  Books that rely on the beauty of their prose, or vast amounts of internal dialog or have enormously complex plots and a lot of characters are far more challenging to adapt to a visual medium.  Make no mistake books and film are different mediums.  They require different story telling skills.

What I loved about the movie was watching smart people solve problems and humans being supportive of each other, agreeing that lives matter — even the life of one man.  My major quibble was with the portrayal of the head of NASA.  Even in the book I didn’t buy the idea that he would keep the information that Watney was alive from the Ares crew, and when you see Jeff Daniels portraying the bureaucrat on a fifty foot screen he becomes even more of a cliche.

There were two point that I wish had been sold a little better in the film versus the book.  I had a feeling that dimmer members of the audience might be puzzled about how Watney replenished his oxygen.  That was explained very well in the novel, but was a tossed off line in the film.  They spent a lot of time on how to make water — which was good — but the oxygen issue wasn’t as well defined.  The reason I wanted this is after a diet of gibberish from shows like V and movies like Independence where the aliens want our water or our natural resources I wanted people to understand that minerals and water aren’t hard to come by in the greater universe.  I’d really rather have these shows say that the aliens want our women (or our men).  It would actually make more sense.  (Which is not saying much).

The visuals on Mars were fantastic, but I actually enjoyed the scenes back at NASA and JPL even more.  Those scenes reminded me of that great moment in APOLLO 13 where all the techs are gathered and a guy comes in carrying an armful of junk, dumps it on the table, picks up a round tube and a square slot and says — “This has to fit into this.  Go!”

Weir addressed the elephant in the room right up front during is talk.  Yes, there couldn’t be a windstorm that powerful on Mars.  But hey guys, this is fiction and he needed a set up and this was great setup.  Why strain over that gnat when we swallow entire  747’s when we buy into stories with faster then light speed?

Bottom line — I really liked the book and the movie.  So read one and then see the other.

6 Responses to The Martian – Book and Film

  • Kenneth Hargis says:

    I was a little disappointed in the movie because of the glossing over of the science. As you mentioned, the whole making water thing, as well as a few other scenes, really made it seem to me that Watney was not portrayed so much as the engineer he also was, and didn’t really demonstrate exactly how genius and talented he had to be in order to be able to pull some of this stuff off with what he had. All of that was much more clear in the book. I didn’t mind skipping the second storm or the crater crash, though I was annoyed that they changed the timeline, but not the math on how much food he had left. All in all, it was a good adaptation, and I certainly enjoyed the movie. I just felt like it was dumbed down science-wise a bit more than I really wanted it to be.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      It’s funny, Ken, because apparently a lot of people complained that there was too much boring science stuff in the movie. I think they were really balancing geeks like us who love this stuff against the broader American public where morons think the Earth is 6000 to 10,000 years old, and evolution is a plot from the devil.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I realized I have one other quibble. In the book it was much clearer about how the flight director embedded the info about Watney in what looked like a personal email. I’m not sure that was explicable if you hadn’t read the book.

  • Kenneth Hargis says:

    Yeah, I see your point. I do have to say that I hate the fact that there’s so much anti-science sentiment and general low knowledge of science in our country. Personally, I loved the science in the book. 🙂

    And yes, from a computer professional’s point of view, the steganography involved on the data embed in a picture could have been much clearer. It’s a really cool tech thing, so I would have liked to see it better portrayed.

  • JaniceG says:

    I really liked the book and thought they did an impressive job with the movie: the art direction was great, the adaptation captured the essence of the book and its key scenes, and Matt Damon did a very good job. I had two small quibbles: they changed my favorite line in the whole book, and I thought they made the scientist who came up with the slingshot solution inappropriately goofy comic relief. I don’t care how much of a clueless nerd you are, if you’re in a meeting with the head of NASA and your boss’s boss’s boss, you don’t act like that. I thought it was insulting to nerds everywhere.

    Much as I really liked it, I think that the book’s fundamental premise is unrealistic: there is no way all of these resources would have been spent – potentially crippling future missions – rescuing only one person . NASA wouldn’t commit them, and certainly the Chinese wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t blame them at all for that decision. Nor, probably, would Watney!

  • Steve Halter says:

    I liked the movie quite a bit. Very nice to have a movie that tries to do science.
    As a minor quibble, I was irritated by the wind conversely, I found the administrator hiding the info fairly believable–so the opposite of you in those:-)

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