Congratulations, The Martian Movie, You Did It!
For the first time in recorded history, a movie is better than the book.
The Martian is a New York Times Best Seller by author Andy Weir, chronicling the journey of Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars. The novel chronicles Watney’s fight to survive on the red planet long enough to be rescued. Since its humble, self-published beginnings in 2011, The Martian has erupted into pop culture consciousness and none other than sci-fi film master Ridley Scott is at the helm of the just-released film adaptation.
Earlier this year I reviewed the well-loved book here on Nerdy Show, and I was surprised and even outright mad at how much I didn’t like it. But, like any self-respecting masochist, I gave The Martian a second go and was pleased to find that the film was everything the book should had been.
The novel has been lauded for blending hard science with a fun adventure story. As awesome as Weir’s efforts towards scientific accuracy were, that coolness was trumped by how little effort he seemingly put into developing the believability of his characters. Martian was an absolute chore to get through, but with Ridley Scott working on the film I had real hope that the cool premise would rise above its the source material. Mission accomplished. While I wouldn’t call it “amazing” by any stretch, Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard purged The Martian of my grievances, and showed me a good time at the movies.
Let’s start with the main issue I had with the book: the completely unbelievable main character’s personality. Throughout the entire novel, in every instance that insurmountable obstacles are thrown at him, Watney cracks jokes. His “great sense of humor” becomes an excuse for a lack of character development. In all Watney’s time alone on Mars, he never once seriously reflects on the fact that it’s extremely probable he’s going to die nor does he convincingly show any situational mindset of a trained NASA astronaut.
Matt Damon’s Watney, however, shows these moments of weakness. He rages when bad things happens, falls into pits of melancholy, and weeps when he hears his crew members voices when in orbit for retrieval. While his sense of humor prevails, it’s shown with realism never suggested in the novel. You believe that he’s a trained astronaut, working to properly log his actions, but still inserting humor to keep himself upbeat.
Unlike the novel, the action sequences were limited so that when they did happen, they had impact. They weren’t only used as a ploy to keep the audience engaged with an otherwise flat character. This allowed for the other supporting characters to develop as individuals, better linking Watney’s struggle on Mars to the struggle on Earth to bring him home safely. Whereas Weir’s novel read like a Gary Stu romp of 2D characters against a hard science backdrop, the film gracefully uplifted the source material with the emotional realism needed to really bring the story to life.
Other improvements include:
- Replacing the phrase “I’ll save you the math” with “I did the math” or “Let’s do the math.” YES. This Watney is an astronaut after all!
- No overuse of the phrase, “I’m pretty much fucked.” It’s funny the first time, then it gets old.
- NO “PIRATE NINJAS” AS A UNIT OF MEASUREMENT! Pandering jokes have been fully exorcised!
The Verdict: The Martian movie was a marked improvement over the book, creating a unique hard sci-fi that can be appreciated by the masses. I’m not convinced that it’s worth the $15 cinema price, but I do recommend seeing it at some point.